Budget airline plans flying casino - Monday 11th of December 2006

Ryanair, in the middle of a hostile bid for fellow Irish airline Aer Lingus, is continuing to break ground as a non-conformist operator with plans to turn its planes into flying casinos.

Europes largest low-cost airline said Wednesday it was forming an online gaming partnership with jackpotjoy.com, an online bingo operator owned by Gamesys.

The Dublin-based carrier said the deal would allow passengers to play "Ryanair Bingo" as well as instant win games while booking their flights, car hire, and hotels on its website.

More than 80 games will be available, with jackpots in excess of £200 000 pounds.

Ryanair chief executive Michael OLeary told a news conference in London that the airline hoped to allow passengers to access the service via their mobile phones or by terminals handed out on the aircraft by the middle of next year.

Passengers will be able to play the games via Ryanairs website from this week, but the inflight service was unlikely to be available until the airline obtains approval for technology enabling the use of mobiles on aircraft.

OLeary said Ryanair expects to receive that by January and to be able to roll out the technology next June or July.

He did not give any forecasts for revenues from the gaming service, but said his airline expected revenues from ancillary services as a whole to grow by about 20 percent a year over the next five years. Ancillary services currently make up about a fifth of the airlines total revenues.

Ryanair launched a €2.80-per-share takeover bid for Aer Lingus on October 5, valuing the Irish carrier at €1.481-billion just days after the company was partially floated on the London and Dublin stock exchanges.

Aer Lingus was formerly a classic state-owned airline with a chequered record of financial problems, but had moved into the low-price market before being part privatised.

Despite widespread opposition to the bid, Ryanair, which last month was named in a poll by travel website TripAdvisor as the worlds least favourite airline, has amassed more than 19 percent of Aer Lingus stock.

The bid was rejected by Aer Lingus management, and has also been greeted with hostility from the Irish government, which still holds a stake of over 28 percent, and trade unions.

With a fleet of 35 aircraft, Aer Lingus currently flies 11 routes to Britain, 57 to continental Europe, nine to the United States and one to the United Arab Emirates. Ryanair operates 419 low-fare routes across 24 European countries, and carries around 42 million passengers per year.

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