Casinos On Cruise Ships, Why Not On Airplanes?
© Copyright 2007, all rights reserved worldwide. GAMBLING AND THE LAW® is a registered trademark of Professor I Nelson Rose, Whittier Law School, Costa Mesa, CA www.GAMBLINGANDTHELAW.com.
Ryanair wants to install games like video poker on its planes. It believes gambling can bring in so much money that it will eventually be able to let everyone fly for free.
Ryanair is already operating its own lottery system, with scratchers. Tickets are sold once the planes enter international waters and only to “residents of countries on Ryanair routes.” Very few passengers bought tickets on the flights I took in Europe. Still, the profits can be tremendous. We don't know how much it keeps. Its literature merely states, “A contribution will be made to children’s charities."
In the 1980s, Singapore Airlines was the first to install slot machines, only two feet tall with plastic cases to save weight, at the back of a plane. In the late 1990s, Swissair introduced on-board video gambling, followed by Lauda Air. Singapore tried again. Harrahs entered into a joint venture with Sky Games.
But on September 2, 1998 Swissair flight 111 crashed off Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia. There is a moving memorial on the rock-strewn coast for the 229 people who died in sight of the land. It is generally accepted that the MD-11 was brought down by a fire caused by the onboard entertainment and gambling system.
Swissair had been operating under an exemption to an American law prohibiting gambling on planes flying into or out of the U.S.
The ban on gambling began with cruise ships. Federal laws in the 1950s made it a crime for U.S. flagships to even carry slot machines.
But ships sailing under the flags of foreign nations were exempt, and would open their casinos as soon as they reached international waters. By 1990 there were only three U.S. flagged cruiseships in the world, sailing between the ports of Hawaii.
Congress reacted by passing the United States-Flag Cruise Ship Competitiveness Act of 1991. American and foreign operators now operate under the same rules, with gambling usually allowed once the ship leaves U.S. territorial waters.
But when Northwest Airlines lobbied Congress to permit gambling on international flights, to compete against foreign carriers, the reaction was exactly the opposite. Without discussion or debate, Congress passed the Gorton Amendment, prohibiting the installation of gambling devices on all flights into or out of the U.S.
The playing field had been leveled. All planes were stripped of gambling devices, even if there was only a slim chance they might enter U.S. airspace.
Nations normally have the power to regulate their own flagships, once they are in or over international waters.
But countries also have the right to protect their borders. The U.S. can demand that there be no gambling on ships or aircraft within its territory.
The Gorton Amendment probably violates civil aviation treaties signed by the U.S., as well as generally recognized international law. Its strongest argument is that foreign airlines are only bound by this American law if they choose to fly to the U.S. Ryanair can have gambling because it never enters U.S. airspace.
But the U.S. has, by treaties, agreed to allow aircraft from other nations which meet certain safety requirements to land and take off. There is no mention of gambling. Congress probably does not have the power to amend these treaties without the consent of the other countries.
More importantly, what would happen if other countries also tried to impose their moral views on the rest of the world? Actually, we already know. The U.S. is opposed to poker, lotteries, sports betting and casino games on the Internet. The result is that Internet gambling has become a very big business, but not for American operators.
I. NELSON ROSE
© Copyright 2007. Professor I Nelson Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law. His latest books, Internet Gaming Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials, are available through his website, www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com.