Airlines have toyed with the idea of offering in-flight gambling for years. But regulatory and technological barriers coupled with financial risks have kept the vast majority of scheduled carriers out of the game.
Even the most aggressive pursuers of ancillary revenue, like Ryanair - which intends to eventually harness OnAir's mobile connectivity service to offer in-flight gambling - thinks the proposition is "probably three, four years away".
While industry stakeholders continue to explore ways to turn aircraft into virtual casinos in the sky, there is a low-stakes gaming answer in the cards for airlines.
Portable in-flight entertainment (IFE) device maker digEcor has teamed up with Los Angeles-based start-up Flight Deck Gaming to offer what they say will be memorable gaming experiences to passengers and fresh ancillary revenue streams for airlines.
Under a new exclusive partnership, Flight Deck Gaming is optimizing a range of casual, skill-based and casino-style games or 'games of chance' for play on digEcor's handheld IFE device known as the digEplayer.
"For us, this has been a partnership and relationship we've been searching for quite a while and [we] finally feel we've found the right team," says Brad Heckel, president of digEcor, which has traditionally offered gaming content on the digEplayer from gaming content provider DTI.
"We are in very specific conversations with probably half a dozen airlines, where Flight Deck Gaming is either already included in the contract or is part of the discussion for the offering, and I might add that the airlines have been very receptive to the concept and to what it is that Flight Deck Gaming can bring in terms of games and ancillary revenue."
According to statistical research from GrabStats, online gaming related revenue is expected to exceed $20 billion by 2012. In-Stat Research says revenue derived from various Wi-Fi enabled devices will surpass $1 billion by 2012. Getting a slice of this pie from airline passengers can be accomplished by capturing pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight revenue, says Flight Deck Gaming managing partner Howard Woods.
In addition to basic subscriptions, there are advertising opportunities - either alongside or actually embedded into the game itself - and sponsorship opportunities, which work particularly well with network and tournament type game play, says Woods. "All of those or any combination is embedded in the model we employ to create total revenue."
Flight Deck Gaming takes the position that airlines should not have to pay for games nor should passengers have to pay outright to play. "When you look at the entire business chain of the gaming industry, charging the passenger to play is an obsolete model," says Woods.
Under the Flight Deck Gaming/digEcor partnership, carriers that want to offer casino-style games, such as poker or virtual roulette, on portable players can do so but at "very little risk" to them, says Heckel, adding: "In essence, you have the same opportunities [as gambling] but it's a completely legal environment."
However, in jurisdictions where full-blown in-flight gambling is permitted, Flight Deck Gaming and digEcor "could make the same game available in a mode" that would facilitate that. "We can make that available, but whether we would do that would be determined by the particular carrier and that environment," says Woods.
The Flight Deck Gaming executive says two factors are coming together at once to make low-stakes in-flight gaming a viable proposition for airline revenue generation right now.
"There has probably never been a higher motivation for ancillary revenue in the airline industry, and, on the other hand, the gaming industry - which has typically been a couple generations ahead and bypassed the airline and transit industries - is sitting down and spending the effort to make the terrestrial gaming model scalable, in an industry that has [previously] taken a fragmented approach. The airline industry has never been hungrier for ancillary revenue."