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Casinos on a plane? Fine, as long as it's responsible

As plans for in-flight casinos are being made, passengers are clearly the perfect audience.

You may have read Simon Calder’s report for The Independent about plans for in-flight casinos to be made available on long-haul flights for first and business class passengers.

Gambling while airborne is nothing new – in fact only a few weeks ago I was flying back from Europe on a budget airline and was offered scratchcards to play. Given that gambling already takes place on aeroplanes means that there is no moral or regulatory reason for other forms of gambling not to be introduced.

Gambling has always been considered as a revenue generator for many different types of commercial enterprise. Whether it’s playing slot machine in the pub or buying lottery tickets form the supermarket, most commercial businesses are happy to earn extra money by offering gambling products. We can now gamble via the red button on our television sets via services like Skybet, and over the summer, the most popular social networking site Facebook launched its first gambling for money game in the shape of Bingo Friendzy.

What’s more, passengers on long-haul flights provide a captive audience. They will want entertainment to stave off the potential boredom. But is this something we should be concerned about? Although I have spent over 25 years studying problem gamblers, I am not anti-gambling in the slightest. I believe that adults should be free to make their own choices about how they spend their disposable income. However, I am also pro-responsible gambling. This means that gaming operators must put in place measures and protocols that protect players from spending too much and protect vulnerable and susceptible individuals (such as children and adolescents). Any service provider that offers gambling should have staff members that are trained in social responsibility.

Gambling is an activity that has the potential to change people’s mood states instantaneously. Just like drinking alcohol or having sex, gambling is a wonderful ‘mood modifier’. It can make us feel high, buzzed up and excited – or it can make us feel low, downbeat and downright depressed. A win (or even a near win) can get the body’s pleasure centre aroused in the form of increased adrenaline and increased endorphins (the body’s own morphine-like substances).

Conversely, big losses can lead to irritability and intense frustration. In extreme cases, gambling losses can lead to anger, verbal abuse, and even physical aggression. In this sense, they are no different from someone who may be drunk from drinking too much alcohol. And what about those who drink while they are gambling in the confines of an air flight? Intoxication and large gambling losses are a heady mix that is best avoided as this could cause problems for both passengers and the airline crew.

The current plan appears to be to offer such gambling services to first and business class passengers only. I presume this is because the airline thinks this group of people will have the most disposable income. On the plus side, it may be the case that this group of individuals can afford to lose and are the least likely to be negatively affected (at least financially). On the negative side it could be viewed as targeted exploitation. And not everyone in business class is rich. I often travel business class but my air fares are paid for by the companies that I work for and not me personally. I certainly can’t afford to drop a hundred pounds here and there.

I am not anti-gambling on aeroplanes particularly if it is another service that passengers want. However, like drinking alcohol, gambling is a consumptive activity that is problematic to a small minority of individuals and that it should be done in moderation. If airlines want to get into the business of being gambling operators as a sideline, they need to have a socially responsible infrastructure in place that maximizes fun for those that want to gamble, and minimizes harm for those who may be vulnerable and susceptible.