Wheels up, chips down: French design consortium develops plans for in-flight casino

French designers unveil plan for mile-high card club with casinos on board airliners

Wheels up, chips down: a French design consortium has come up with a gambling concept that trumps a Ryanair scratchcard.

An on-board casino for first and business-class passengers is on the cards.

The “Casino Jet Lounge” proposed by the Toulouse-based firms, AirJet Designs and Designescence, is “a new entertainment and social space designed for long-haul commercial flights”.

The concept features a bar-lounge area, already familiar to premium passengers on some airlines, with the new twist of a proper blackjack table – bringing new meaning to the term Flight 21.

The idea, say the firms, is to bridge the gap between scheduled flights and private jets, providing “A VIP-type concept with revenue-generating potential [and] bringing back the excitement and glamour associated with air travel in its heyday”.

They have mocked up the forward section of a Boeing 777 to test the concept. On advice from European and American safety experts, gambling will not be permitted during ascent, descent or spells of inflight turbulence.

The plan is revealed in the latest edition of (i) Aircraft Interiors International (/i) magazine. The editor, Adam Gavine, said: “Many airlines like a unique feature onboard their new aircraft, so perhaps a combined bar and card table would work. But airlines go to great lengths to ensure a pleasant flying experience, and an inflight gambling loss could easily spoil that.”

Mr Gavine said card games would prove more successful than roulette: “Gamblers expect roulette tables to be in perfect balance, and that is simply not possible aboard an aircraft”.

Inflight gambling began in the 1980s when Singapore Airlines experimented with installing one-armed bandits aboard Boeing 747s. In the 21st century, Ryanair and other budget airlines have found selling instant-win scratchcards to be a lucrative sideline.

Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies at Nottingham Trent University, said there was “no moral reason” why blackjack and other games should not follow: “Gambling has always been considered as a revenue generator for many different types of enterprise and the airline industry is no different.”

But Professor Griffiths warned of the risk of air rage among losing players: “Gambling is a well-known ‘mood modifier’ and wins can make players feel great. Conversely, losses can lead to frustration and irritability, and in extreme cases, anger and aggression. Just like alcohol, excessive use can - in a minority of cases - cause problems for other passengers and airline crew”.

British Airways, the only UK airline flying the 777, said it had no plans to install the casino. It already offers blackjack, roulette and poker games on its inflight entertainment system, but for fun rather than hard cash.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said “We have no immediate plans to launch a casino but we have a few surprises up our sleeve for short-haul flights and our 787s”.

Both airlines fly to gambling’s galactic HQ, Las Vegas, but a US law known as the Gorton Amendment prohibits “any gambling device” to be fitted to jets using American airspace.

Even if technical and legal obstacles are overcome, there is still no certainty than the idea will prove financial viable. Douglas McNeill, analyst for Charles Stanley Securities, said: “Airliners cost a fortune to buy and fly around.  Every cubic foot of space has to earn its keep, so an inflight casino would have to make big money. Otherwise, the economics demand that the space be given over to paying passengers.”