Fly the Friendly... Casino

Is there a big idea Sir Richard Branson, serial entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, doesn't like? Shortly after the rollout of the new superjumbo Airbus A380, Virgin Atlantic put in an order for six of the jets. And shortly after that, Branson told TheNew York Times in referring to his plans for an onboard casino and cabins with double beds in first class: "You'll have two ways to get lucky on a Virgin flight."

OK, sure, let's give him bonus points for the clever sound bite. But can you imagine? First it was talk of onboard slot machines. Then it was a debate about using cell phones and WiFi in the air. Were full-blown casinos to dot the skies, on your next trip overseas you might be seated near a card table. Instead of a quiet flight with a movie or two, you could be regaled with shouts of "all in!"

That might sound appealing to you. If so, you're the chap Branson is betting on. Well, you and the 70 million others who have tried a few hands of poker. Indeed, gambling has become a huge business. So big that Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) ESPN network is trying to cash in with a new show on the game called On Tilt. Even the wildly popular World Poker Tour has come public via WPT Enterprises (Nasdaq: WPTE  ) .

So can you blame Branson for wanting to get in on the action? I can't. But it's also a stretch to think that airlines can go back to their heydays in the 1930s and 1940s, when airliners offered most passengers spacious cabins and luxury experiences. Branson may be the only one who can pull it off. After all, lengthy voyages in Virgin Atlantic's upper class already provide food made to order, fully reclining seats, and onboard massages.

Assuming he can make it happen, there will be several companies vying to outfit the flying casinos. Among them could be Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Shuffle Master (Nasdaq: SHFL  ) , WMS Industries (NYSE: WMS  ) , and International Game Technology (NYSE: IGT  ) , which just this morning reported a disappointing outlook. Still, if global airlines were to ape Branson's Rule Breaking approach, these and other gaming technology stocks could offer huge jackpots for investors.

For related Foolishness:

What do you think? Can the A380 remake today's airlines into something more like cruise lines? Will Virgin be the first to offer a flying casino? Will it happen here in the U.S., or only on international flights? And just how do you play poker with turbulence? Debate all this and more at the Airlines and On Tilt discussion boards. Only at Fool.com.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers enjoys a few hands of poker every now and again, but he doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. To find out what stocks Tim owns, check out his Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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