Iacocca IACOCCA BETS ON FUTURE OF IN-FLIGHT GAMBLING

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Proponents of airline gaming need look no further for a pitchman.

Lee Iacocca, the charismatic retired chairman and ad spokesman of Chrysler Corp., last week formed a new merchant banking company, Iacocca Capital Group, in Beverly Hills, Calif. One of ICG's first priorities is the creation of new revenue streams for the airline industry, including in-flight gaming.

There's just one problem-U.S. law currently prohibits domestic carriers from providing gaming on any flights, within the country or internationally.

At least one domestic carrier, Northwest Airlines, is already lobbying to get the lawchanged on the basis that the entire U.S. airline industry critically needs new sources of revenue (AA, Nov. 22).

Mr. Iacocca, 69, might be just the lobbyist the industry needs.

As Chrysler chairman, he overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to convince Congress to bail out the company from almost certain bankruptcy. His forthright appearances in Chrysler's ads helped sell enough cars to repay the company's debt.

On a more philanthropic note, Mr. Iacocca chaired the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which raised $277 million to restore the statue for its centennial in 1986.

Among Iacocca Capital Group's first projects is an in-flight interactive video system that would provide shopping, entertainment, information and gaming services to airline passengers in their seats.

ICG is holding discussions with entertainment, technology and gaming companies about developing the system, and is negotiating with a major U.S.-based air carrier to install the system on its international fleet.

"After 46 years in the automotive industry, I believe there is an extraordinary opportunity to participate in the creation of an entirely new form of media in the sky," Mr. Iacocca, chairman of ICG, said in a statement. "Interactive passenger video terminals will supply the airlines with a new, badly needed revenue stream. ICG will bring together the suppliers and capital to create this electronic, on-demand, in-flight system."

Foreign air carriers this year are expected to roll out systems that would allow passengers to play electronic poker, blackjack and other games from seatback video terminals while outside U.S. jurisdiction.

Northwest is also working with Hughes-Avicom International, supplier of the gaming technology and equipment, and Caesars World to develop in-flight gaming.

Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian advises Mr. Iacocca, though he isn't directly involved in ICG. Mr. Kerkorian owns MGM Grand, the Las Vegas hotel and casino operator, and the MGM Grand Air upscale charter airline.

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