Why Don’t Airplanes Offer Casino Slot Machines?

Airplane Graphic With a Slots Background

Airplanes try to make long flights more enjoyable through various means. They offer in-flight movies, alcoholic drinks, meals, and more.

Even still, flights aren’t always entertaining—especially when they last for several hours or longer. One way that airlines could make trips more fun, though, is by adding slot machines on their planes.

This seems like something that would be available as there are slot machines available in some airports around the world.

However, no airlines are currently offering slot machines on their planes. Below, I’ll discuss more on the situation along with if aircrafts will ever provide the chance to play slots for real money.

Airports—Not Airplanes—Feature Slot Machines

The airline industry isn’t completely unfamiliar with slot machines. In fact, certain airports around the world offer slots.

Located in Las Vegas, the McCarran International Airport is the most-famous example of an airport that’s filled with slot machines. It currently offers over 1,300 slots.

McCarran Airport Slot Machines

Airport slot machines aren’t known for offering the best return to player (RTP). Of course, the airport has a captive audience so they don’t have to offer the best returns. Nevertheless, they give you an opportunity to enjoy entertaining games while waiting for your flight to leave.

Airlines Have Actually Tried Slots in the Past

The idea of slot machines in planes isn’t completely new. In fact, a few companies tested this experiment decades ago.

According to View From The Wing, Singapore Airlines tried slot machines for two months in 1981. They introduced slots on their route going from Singapore to San Francisco.

Singapore Airlines had massive success with the machines. In fact, they experienced too much success due to many passengers crowding the back of the plane. The company chose lighter slots so that the aircraft wasn’t bogged down and burning excessive fuel. However, the light machines weren’t sturdy enough and quickly broke.

In the 1990s, Swissair rolled out seat-based slots. Players could choose seats with mini slot machines and spin the reels during flights.

This idea went well until Swissair Flight 111 experienced technical difficulties and crashed. All 229 passengers aboard the plane died. Investigators discovered that the crash was due to faulty wiring in the gaming/entertainment system.

In 2005, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary announced his intentions to add slot machines on his planes. O’Leary envisioned a scenario where flights would be free due to his company making so much money. However, Ryanair never actually added the slots.

All Slots Experiments Have Failed on Airplanes So Far

You can see from the examples above that slot machines haven’t faired well on airplanes. Companies that tried slots faced one or more of the following problems:

  • Passengers/gamblers clogging up aisleways of the plane.
  • Machines breaking.
  • A plane crashing due to wiring issues.

These obstacles already reduce the appeal of airplane-based slot machines. The current laws in nations like the US create further deterrence.

The 1991 US Flag Cruise Ship Competitiveness Act gives cruise ship casinos the ability to offer gambling in international waters.

Despite petitioning for the same rights, airlines were denied. The Gorton amendment (49 USC 41311) to the Ship Competitiveness Act prevents any plane flying to or from America from featuring slot machines.

It also warns airline companies not to install or even transport slots. However, the FAA has noted that foreign planes can feature slots so long as the machines aren’t running during US-bound flights.

With the current gambling laws in the US, it might be a long time before you see slots on airplanes again.

Could Airlines Try Casino Slot Machines Again?

You can see that slots haven’t fared well in airplanes thus far. However, this isn’t to say that slot machines couldn’t eventually be popular in the air.

Airline companies have already thought enough of this idea to try it in the past. Nothing is stopping them from giving airplane slots another go in the future.

Airlines might especially be motivated to try slot machines when considering that their profits have been shrinking in recent years.

After peaking in 2018 with $872 billion in revenue, airline companies have seen their revenue drop to $328 and $459 billion in 2019 and 2020, respectively. COVID has really taken its toll on commercial flights.

Southwest Airlines Plane in Flight

Meanwhile, studies have shown that the industry could seriously benefit from having inflight slot machines. In 1996, the Department of Transportation’s research showed that airlines could earn $1 million per plane annually by offering slots. It noted that this figure could jump to $1.6 million by 2020.

Many airlines are running longer flights these days too. Southwest Airlines, for example, which offers trips to Hawaii, could cash in on gamblers who make these extremely long treks.

Gambling would help airline companies recover following the COVID-induced beatdown that the industry has suffered. It could even reduce ticket prices as airlines find that slots bring in plentiful profits.

How Would Airplane Casino Slots Floors Operate?

Unlike with land-based casinos, airplanes don’t provide an ideal place for slot machines. They’re long, narrow, and are filled with seats to accommodate passengers.

Therefore, an airline would need to justify putting slot machines in place of valuable seats. As the research covered before suggests, though, inflight slots could certainly justify their existence.

The average commercial plane carries 40 passengers per flight and likely holds between 60 and 100 seats. A company could take out 10 of these seats in the back area and probably earn nice return on the investment. It could also simply build larger planes on average with a dedicated section for gambling. The dedicated area could be designed in a way that avoids interfering with employees’ work.

As for currency, airlines could allow either cash or frequent flyer miles. The latter would be intriguing to those who want more options for their miles.

Delta, for example, values each mile at $0.01. A person flying Delta could use 100 frequent flyer miles to place a $1 slots spin.

The miles could also serve as a stand-in for VIP rewards. As you’re likely aware, land-based and real money online casinos provide loyalty points to frequent players. These points enable one to earn free drinks, meals, hotel stays, and more.

An airplane could essentially become its own casino in the sky. It could deliver all of these comps in exchange for miles.

Are Inflight Slot Machines Ultimately a Good Idea?

Most people aren’t completely comfortable with flying as it is. Therefore, the story of Swissair Flight 111 going down because of a faulty connection with the gaming system is terrifying.

That episode, however, happened three decades ago. Airlines are much better equipped to develop gaming systems without compromising safety these days.

Another potential problem discussed before is the light slot machines breaking down. Singapore Airlines eventually abandoned this concept since their games couldn’t hold up.

I’m not saying that there wouldn’t still be other problems with airplane slots. However, airlines could likely offer machines with little-to-no trouble today.

No Competition From Online Slots

Land-based casinos and online casinos aren’t in complete competition. After all, they provide different experiences and feature unique advantages when compared.

Airplanes and online casinos might be a different story. One could just play slots on their phone rather than heading to the back of the plane.

Dinosaur Themed Online Slots

The catch, though, is that you’re supposed to turn your phone off or keep it on airplane mode during flights. Internet-connected phones could conceivably interfere with the plane’s navigation system.

In short, you’ll be breaking the rules by playing online slots on a flight. Thus, airlines have a monopoly on sky based gambling and could make serious profits.

Conclusion

The airline industry isn’t clamoring to offer gambling. However, some companies have expressed interested in the matter over the years.

Certain airlines have even tested slot machines. All of these tests, which occurred in the 1980s and 90s, didn’t produce any fruit.

But studies have shown that airlines stand to make millions of dollars in extra revenue through slots. They could more than counteract the seats they’d be losing with gaming revenue.

Only time will tell if the industry is interested in trying gambling again. I’m willing to be that airlines will try it if the laws ever change.