Everything You Need To Know About Cruise Ship Casinos

Planning a cruise? Most already know to expect there to be endless amounts of shuffleboard, theme shows, buffets, and towel origami, all of which is rather straightforward. However, those looking to spend a lot of time gambling might want to consider all the ins and outs of how cruise ship casinos operate so that they can get a jackpot experience.

Do All Cruises Have Casinos?

No. While most larger lines feature casinos, there are some exceptions. The Disney Cruise line is one of the last holdouts to not have any casinos on any of their ships. Some smaller liners, focusing more on nature and wildlife than entertainment, may also not have a casino. But for the most part, casinos have become a staple onboard most liners.

Some sea liners have taken a note from the river cruises, or steamboats, and have taken to day excursions in international waters for the main purpose of evading gambling laws and returning the same day- ‘cruises to nowhere'.

Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina, Indiana, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, and Iowa all have legalized riverboat casinos. River cruises often take passengers out for a few hours to a few days with the main purpose of gambling. Some are even anchored to the shore permanently on a barge, sitting just offshore and never actually moving.

When booking a cruise, check the specific liner's amenities to determine if it has an onboard casino.

What Types Of Games And Machines Do Cruises Have?

The types of games offered vary from basic to unusual.

Crystal Cruises features blackjack, craps, roulette, 3 card poker, video poker, Texas Holdem, and slot machines standard on all their vessels.

Costa Cruises features roulette, slot machines, blackjack, 3 card poker, 5 card poker, and Super Fun 21.

MSC Cruises offer most of the traditional games. However, they have some rare finds as well, such as trente et quarante, chemin de fer, and punto banco.

Players will find one the largest varieties on Celebrity Cruises, with games like blackjack, roulette, 3 card poker, video poker, slots, Texas Holdem, Let It Ride, and baccarat. However, the game selection varies per vessel.

It's also important to note that some cruise ships have dealer-delt games and some use electronic tables. For those this is important to, it's again best to look at the specific liner before booking a ticket.

Is The Payback And Jackpot For Slots Similar To Vegas?

Rarely will you find an onboard slot game with a payback or jackpot to compare to land-based gambling. Not that the jackpot or winnings are anything to scoff at. It's just that cruise ships know that they have a captive audience, who quite literally can't hop off to a competitor's machines, and they adjust their payouts accordingly.

Are These High-Roller Table Games?

Yes and no. Table minimums vary from $1.00 to $10.00 on most cruises, depending on the cruise line and specific liner.

Oceana and Regent, for example, each have a table with a $25 minimum. Seabourn has a single $100 minimum table. Whereas, Cunard has .25 cent each roulette spins.

The chances of walking in and finding a high-roller game in action are limited. The good news is that card sharks tend to stay away from cruise gambling, or at least the mainstream tables.

Some cruises have pit-bosses who will accommodate a private high-stakes game with higher limits and minimums if enough guests request it. Carnival, Royal Caribbean International, and Norwegian have even been known to reach out to their serious “rate” players and organize private voyages more geared to high-rollers.

What About Tournaments For The More Serious Gamblers?

Yes, many cruise lines are offering gambling tournaments for slots, blackjack, and poker within a regular cruise. It attracts thousands of gaming enthusiasts each year looking for a sea adventure jackpot. Some are even offering specialty poker-themed cruises. Norwegian and Carnival hold tournament rounds throughout the year and then have a final themed cruise competition at the end of the year.

Most tournaments are buy-ins pre-cruise, meaning no money is exchanged on the tables. Rebuys are allowed in some tournaments. In fact, it's most often the person that rebuys the most that end up winning.

The jackpots for some are cash value. Do note, however, that other tournaments may only be offering free entry and travel to a finale tournament round as a prize during the initial tournament rounds. Royal Caribbean's final round is worth $100,000.

What Are The Hours Of Operation For Cruise Casinos?

Do not expect 24/7 operation with an onboard casino. Hours of operation will vary depending on the destinations, the number of days at sea vs port, proximity traveled near coastlines, etc.

Cruises fall under the Maritime law. This law allows the nation the ship is registered under to dictate gambling laws while the cruise is in international waters. Once a cruise is a certain distance to land, 3-12 miles depending on the country, the cruise is then in territorial waters and is subject to that particular land's laws on gambling.

Most all ports require onboard casinos to close within 12 miles from the coast and while at port. There are very few exceptions; Bermuda and Nassau allow cruises docked overnight to operate during late night/early morning hours. Alaska allows cruises to operate casinos once 3 miles offshore.

Days at sea and destination are top considerations if hunting a jackpot is at the top of the itinerary.

Is There a Minimum Age Requirement To Play?

Yes. The minimum age is generally set by the country by which the vessel sails under. So, if it's a U.S. based cruise ship, the minimum age will usually be 21-years-old. Whereas, a cruise liner for the U.K. usually has a minimum gambling age of 18-years-old.

There are caveats to this general rule. For example, Royal Caribbean International allows 18-years-old and up to gamble with the exception of Alaska sailings, where the minimum age is 21-years-old. Princess cruises to Japan have an unusual 20-year-old minimum age.

Again, it's best to check the cruise line, specific vessel, and destinations for age restrictions and requirements before booking.

What Type of Currency is Used in the Casino?

The majority of cruise lines offer guests a variety of options from a pre-loaded cruise card, players card, cash, or pre-approved credit.

Do check into what options are available from each cruise line because there are some that offer only one or two options. Regent and Windstar, for example, are cash-only casinos.

Most ships have an ATM onboard, albeit with a stiff fee, for cash withdrawals.

What About A Player's Club Or Loyalty Card With Perks and Points?

Many of the larger liners have established Player's Clubs. These generally offer a loyalty program to earn points toward cash-back, complimentary beverages, future cruise discounts, and other cruise-related and gambling gifts. Some of these cards work much like a land-based casino in that they can be inserted from machine to machine and players can cash out at the end of play or the end of the cruise.

Operation varies per program, but many have levels where players excel based on the frequency they cruise and play. So, it may take a frequent traveler to rack up anything worthwhile.

It's important to read the fine print as some of these perks do not transfer between liners, even within the same fleet, and some may come with a percentage ‘service fee' to use.

Are The Drinks Free At The Casino?

Luxury liners usually do offer free drinks within the casino… Smaller lines not so much. A General rule of thumb is that if the drinks must be purchased in other areas of the ship, they won't be free in the casino either. Loyalty programs through the casino can usually earn a few drinks if the player is spending a significant amount. Pit bosses can also comp drinks to the high-rollers and jackpot winners.

Smoking Or Non-Smoking?

Policies on smoking vary per ship. Some cruise lines, like Oceana, have 100% smoke-free facilities. Princess Cruises are generally smoking, but they do have designated smoke-free nights. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are smoke-friendly facilities. MSC has a specific ship in their fleet that's smoke-free. Carnival has non-smoking and smoking areas aboard all ships.

If this is an important factor, it's best to check the specifics of the cruise line policy.

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