Most cruise lines today view gambling on cruise ships as an entertainment for their passengers and they are happy to make profits from guests who tend to be impulse inexperienced gamblers rather than high rollers who take it much seriously to gamble and bet large sums. What's more - the floating cruise ship casinos are unlike the ones in Vegas as they don't have to compete with the next door casino that may try to attract guests with better perks. There's only one casino on each ship with limited space - "the only game in town" ;-).
Gambling on Cruise Ships and Law
Who sets the laws for gambling on cruise ships? Technically whatever is the flag flying on a ship determines the country which governs laws aboard. Laws applicable to activities on water are "Maritime law". Depending on the locale of waters, things can change. For example, when a ship is docked, it is in internal waters of the specific country and has to abide by its rules. Territorial waters are twelve miles away from coastline. The regulation becomes interesting then, as for example, cruise ships that feature gaming onboard can't open the casino until they've exceeded twelve miles because of illegal gambling rules in respect to USA waters. Once the cruise vessel has traveled twenty-four miles out, it is in international water then and can offer games.
Origins of Gambling on Cruise Ships
Gambling on Cruise Ships began to set roots in 1991 after Cruise Ship Competiveness Act was issued. Now USA ships can offer games right after hitting international waters. Gambling laws change according to various countries, when it comes to being at port. It's well known that now USA will allow a casino at sea to be open while the ship is docked. However, Bermuda has allowed cruise ships when docked there to remain open, which ensures Bermuda a competitive destination. For those who lived far from Atlantic City or Las Vegas, casino gambling was a great shipboard activity.
Certainly, that idea has changed in the U.S. with the river state-operated gambling casinos and the ones run by Indian tribes. Riverboat casinos' legality is simpler as they remain within a single nation. They are subjected basically to the same rulings as on-land casinos (based on jurisdiction from which they operate). The last twentieth century's decades found the states looking for new sources of revenue. Many states began to allow river boats offer casino gambling. A large number of these boats are actually stationary barges and never leave dock - they're moored on a lake, river, or ocean permanently. Casino gambling was sold to voters but gambling was limited to river boats. The rationale was not only physical restrictions, but time limitation, as well. Gamblers with set time - two or three hours, did not lose as much as if time was unrestricted. These riverboats sailed down a river, around lake or bay, at first, but as time passed, more of them never left the dock. Because of neighboring states' competition, lots of riverboat cruises don't limit the time for "gambling excursions". Because of the sovereign nation status of Indian tribes, they were allowed to set up casinos for gambling, too.
The first modern riverboat casino was legalized in Iowa in 1989, then in Illinois, followed by Missouri, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi. Gaming types allowed on these casinos varied by jurisdiction. Generally, states allow playing traditional casino games such as roulette, blackjack, and slots. In addition to tribal and riverboat casinos, some states began allowing the so-called "cruises to nowhere" which take guests out beyond the 3-mile limit for a night or a weekend gambling cruise. As a result of the new gaming opportunities, today casino gambling and Indian gaming are legal in over half of the fifty United States. Most of the casinos were built during the last decade.
Gambling on Cruise Ships Today
Today all ships ranging from main stream to luxury have casinos and fortunately for cruise enthusiast who like to gamble, cruise lines go on with building bigger and elaborate casinos onboard. Many guests consider them essential feature of cruise experience. May be the best part of gambling on cruise ships today is that cruise ship casino workers and dealers are more patient and really help beginners learn the games (not the same in Las Vegas!).
The bigger part of cruise ship guests are on vacation just to enjoy the voyage, and gambling is a small piece of the cruise. As the number of contemporary cruise ships is growing fast, several lines are marketing to players who are interested both in cruise experience itself, and willing to spend a few hours a day in the casino onboard. Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International are leaders as they reach out to "high rollers". Their onboard casinos are ready to "rate" players, and buy them drinks, open tables with higher limits and higher minimums, and even organize all or part of voyages for serious players. As the popularity of cruise experience grows, it's becoming common to see high rollers - Las Vegas-style, in the cruise ships casinos. These high rollers have enjoyed the Las Vegas hotels' perks such as free food and beverages, complimentary rooms, etc. and are surprised when special treatment is not afforded them onboard. Cruise ships' casinos consider they've been generous just after buying a drink for guests.
Gambling on Cruise Ships and Player Programs
Some of the major cruise lines have attempted to start their own Player Programs over the past decade, in order to attract guests who gamble for large stakes, by offering limited perks. Several programs started, and eventually ended, but others made a serious run at players with high stakes. Carnival program Ocean Players Club (OPC) made the most successful efforts to market the program. The minute you walk into a Carnival onboard casino, all those announcements and signs make it hard to ignore Ocean Players Club. Players earn points towards complimentary beverages, future benefits, instant cash back rewards, and free gifts. The Club has different membership levels based on the frequency of cruising and the point levels. Carnival cruise ships feature slot machines with hardware and you have to insert "players cards".
The winnings (if any) pack on the card, and you can simply move with it from one machine to another. The card also monitors all points you earn, and the last day of cruise you can redeem them for rewards. OPC players at table games are monitored and rated in order to earn points. Points are more easily earned on slot machines. Due to the odds of games, players can lose while playing slots more quickly than after table games. Therefore less time playing on slot machines is necessary in OPC program. Carnival casinos charge 3% service fee on guests' Sail & Sign cards. For high rollers, credit lines may be established prior cruising. Lines of credit are available up to $100,000.
Crystal Cruises currently doesn't have "player's program". Recently, the line ended relationship with Caesar Palace which operated Crystal casinos for years. Now it's looking at creating a player's program. However, Crystal announced drinks complimentary for all their casino players. Norwegian Cruise Line marketed "Casinos At Sea" player's program, where players earn points on table games and slot machines play, and cash back at cruise's end, or the points can be carried over for a 12-month period on passengers' account.
Cantor Gaming and Celebrity Cruises crushed preconceived ideas about gambling at sea. Together they brought the first casino gaming mobile solution to cruise industry. You'll be able to download apps (the free app Cantor Mobile Casino) via the WiFi shipboard network to your Android or Apple phone or tablet that will allow playing slots, video poker, and table games, anywhere aboard Celebrity ships. The possibilities include slots on the stateroom balcony, a hand of poker by the swimming pool, or a game of roulette on Lawn Club. Just head to the casino desk, create and fund your "virtual wallet", and you'll be able to play anywhere on ship a variety of casino games - as long as it is in international waters. If you don't have a tablet or a smart phone, there ain't need to worry. Celebrity Cruises is not changing a thing about its onboard traditional casinos. Passengers are still able to play games like roulette, poker (plus Texas Hold 'Em), and blackjack. Games like Let It Ride and baccarat are available on some ships by request. Texas Hold 'Em, as it is land, leads charge for cruise ships' gamblers. Most ships have one poker table (at least) in their casinos, and during the cruise host tournaments.
Poker Themed Cruises today are becoming more and more common. Players aren't invited to travel free to participate - they may even pay a premium in order to participate in poker tournaments and games. Organizers have separate game rooms and tables for exclusive use of the ones in the group. There are also experts onboard, who bring on own dealers and oversee smooth, legal and fair operations of the games and tournaments. Head to the onboard casino and try to win. Just view this experience as part of entertainment costs. It's a bonus if you happen to win, but expect to lose as well. If the play results in a bottle of wine or free logo wear, celebrate the bonus. Follow the rule not to gamble more than you are prepared to lose. Gambling on cruise ships must be fun, after all.