Sky’s the Limit for High Rollers
By Paul
In a neat twist on the riverboat casino idea, Israel has given the go-ahead to casinos on board airplanes, allowing gamblers to board “flying casinos” to escape Israel’s tough gaming laws.

From next year, three flights per day will depart from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to fly over the Mediterranean. Once outside Israeli airspace, passengers will be able to gamble on roulette wheels and play the slot machines.

Two Israeli businessmen, with no previous background in gambling, are initiating the project in coordination with an Icelandic company. An Iceleand Air Atlanta jet will land in Israel next month to be overhauled and fitted out as a casino at a cost of $20 million by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). The first gambling flight is tentatively scheduled for early 2003.

'This will be the first time that a flying casino will operate on a continuous basis,' said attorney Irit Lehem-Kipperman, who is representing the project's organizers. The team already has plans of expanding the project to operate two planes. Future plans include adding additional planes worldwide.

The project, a private initiative by Israeli investors, is expected to generate about $50 million per year for the Israeli Treasury, said Yerach Tal, adviser for Transport Minister Ephrahim Sneh.

'They met all the requirements. The fact that they will make a casino we could not prevent it. This is outside Israeli borders,' Tal said.

Speaking to Israeli radio, Sneh said: 'I approved it because I cannot oppose it legally, and it is a very important contract for the Israeli aeronautical industry.'

In Israel, the influence of religious parties has led to a ban on casinos, but Israelis are keen gamblers, and many travel abroad to play, especially to Turkey. Gambling cruises used to run from the Dead Sea port of Eilat, and there are, according to Yossi Katz, Chairman of the Knesset committee, 150 illegal casinos operating in Israel.

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