Air raising experiences: Gambling as in-flight entertainment

Today’s blog is based on an article I was commissioned to write for The Independent and which was published on November 30, 2012. I originally entitled my piece as ‘Is it right for high flyers to become high rollers?” but The Independent changed it to ‘Casinos on a plane? Fine as long as it’s responsible”.

At the end of November 2012, Simon Calder wrote a 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 I have flown back from Europe a number of times on budget airlines where I 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 from the supermarket, most commercial businesses are happy to earn extra money by offering gambling products. We can now gamble online, 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. In short, gambling has always been considered as a revenue generator for among many different and diverse commercial operators, and the airline industry is no different.

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.

Overall, 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.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Calder, S. (2012). Wheels up, chips down: French design consortium develops plans for in-flight casino. The Independent, November 30. Located at:

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). An overview of pathological gambling. In T. Plante (Ed.), Mental Disorders of the New Millennium. Vol. I: Behavioral Issues. pp. 73-98. New York: Greenwood.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Addiction and exposure. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The International Encyclopaedia of Communication (Volume 1). pp. 34-36. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292). New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on February 28, 2013, in Addiction, Advertising, Alcohol, Gambling, Gambling addiction, Marketing, Popular Culture, Problem gamblng, Psychology, Social Networking, Social responsibility, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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