Bad Bet: How Cruise Ship Casinos Offer Poor Payouts

Ever wonder why the casino is located where it is on a cruise ship? Nearly always you’ll find it near the center of the ship with an entrance from the main promenade walkway. That’s because making the casino inviting — and easy to get to — rakes in more cash for the cruise lines.

But if you’re a casual gambler, then you might not realize there is something more that the cruise lines often do to make even more money. Cruise ship casinos offer some of the poorest payouts of any casino you’ll find. As the only game in town, you can’t just head off to another casino with better payouts.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re big fans of casino gambling. We’ve placed bets, thrown dice, and pulled slot handles everywhere from Las Vegas to Louisiana. And it’s widely known that the “house always wins.” But what you’ll find on a cruise puts the advantage heavily in the casino’s favor.

How strong is that advantage? Well, it depends on the game, but we’ve found some examples of bad bets in ship casinos that you’ll want to know about before you put your money down.

Blackjack Rules Not In Your Favor

Blackjack is one of the most popular table games at any casino. It’s also among the games with the lowest house edge if played under specific rules, such as paying 3-to-2 on blackjack and having the dealer stand on all hands worth 17. In fact, according to the WizardOfOdds.com, a player can actually expect a positive return if playing with the most generous rules while also playing the optimal strategy.

But all casinos — both on land and on cruise ships — adjust those rules to put the advantage in their favor.

The most common rule change you’ll see is blackjack paying 6-to-5 instead of the more usual 3-to-2. If that doesn’t sounds like a big deal, consider that a $10 bet would pay $12 on blackjack instead of $15 under the typical rules.

The 6-to-5 tables are rampant on cruise ships and lower a gambler’s expected return by about 1.5% over the long-term. You can still find some 3-to-2 payouts, but usually only if you are playing higher limits (>$25 per hand)

Minimum bets on blackjack
Gamblers have to wager at least $25 per hand before they can play 3-to-2 blackjack.

Another rule commonly found on cruise ships is that the dealer must hit on a “soft 17” (when the dealer shows an ace and six). This rule is actually in the casino’s favor and increases the house edge by about 0.2%. That may not sound like much, but combined with other rules and lower blackjack payouts, it adds up.

Soft 17 table
A table paying 6-to-5 with dealer hitting on soft 17.

Low Payouts on Video Poker

Are you a “Jacks or Better” video poker player? That’s likely because you know that a “9/6” machine has a payback of 99.54% over the long-term. In other words, play long enough (thousands and thousands of hands) and you can expect to lose less than $0.50 for every hundred dollars you bet.

That payout makes video poker one of the best bets in a casino. Of course, you likely also know that casinos will adjust the payout to increase their take.

If you aren’t familiar with video poker, you can judge the payout of a machine by how much it pays players for a full house and a flush. A machine paying back nine credits on a one credit bet for a full house and six credits for a flush is called a “9/6” machine. These are the two payouts that the casinos can adjust to tweak their edge.

It’s extremely rare to find “9/6” machines in most casinos. You often find something like an “8/5” or a “7/5” machine. On cruise ships, you’ll most likely find the dreaded “6/5” machine.

Jacks or better video poker payouts
“6/5” video poker machines are common on cruises.

Jacks or Better video poker paying back six credits for a full house and five credits for a flush have an expected return of 95.12% over the long-term. In other words, you can expect to lose about $5 for every hundred dollars bet — about ten times more than you’d lose on a “9/6” machine.

Craps Games with Bad Bets

Few places in the casino can be as exciting as a craps table that’s rocking on a busy night. The cheers can be heard no matter where on the floor you are. On the flipside, a table that goes cold can clear out quickly, making the craps table feel like a graveyard. After all, no one wants to keep playing when they are losing money.

To keep more of your hard-earned clams, it’s smart to know what are good bets at the craps table and what are bad bets. What you’ll find on the cruise ship are small tweaks that are actually poor bets.

First, you’ll often find the “Big 6 | Big 8” bets. This large area pays you even money if there is a six or an eight rolled on the table. But if you simply “place” the same bet with a dealer, then you’d earn 7-to-6 ($7 on every $6 bet).

Casinos place these “Big 6 | Big 8” in order to lure in bets with a higher house edge. Even Caesars Entertainment (the people behind Caesars Palace) have written about how poor of a bet this spot is on a craps table:

“Here’s the thing. Don’t bet on the Big 6 and 8. Yes, they’re big. We’ve established that. And red, too. It’s not a horrible bet, we know that. But betting on the 6 and 8, on another part of the table, makes a lot more sense.

“Up near the dealer are a row of numbers, including the 6 and 8, and when you “place” your bet there, it pays 7-to-6, rather than even money. For betting on the same numbers.

“Doesn’t sound like a big difference? A bet on the Big 6 and 8 has a 9 percent house advantage (hint: that’s a lot). A place bet of $6 (since it pays 7-to-6, you place a multiple of $6) has a house advantage of just 1.5 percent.”

Cruise ship craps table
This cruise ship craps table has the “Big 6” bet and only pays double on a field bet.

What you’ll also find on many cruise ship craps table is a small difference in payouts on the field bets. The field bet is the easiest bet on the table. Place a bet and if on the next roll the dice show 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 or 12, then you win. All numbers pay back even money, except 2 and 12. These traditionally pay double your money if a 2 is rolled and triple your money if a 12 is rolled. This gives the house an edge of 2.8% on the bet.

What’s common in cruise ships casinos is for both the 2 and 12 to pay double. With this lower payout, the house’s advantage jumps to 5.6% on the field bet. That may not seem like much, but it’s a huge difference when it comes to gambling.

Should You Gamble on a Cruise?

With all of the lowered payouts in a cruise ship casino, it begs the question — should you even gamble at all? Speaking personally, we still gamble while on a cruise. However, we play with a much different mindset than when playing on land.

We know that there isn’t just a house edge like in a regular casino; the odds are stacked heavily against us. That’s why we gamble drastically less than we would if at a land-based casino with more favorable payouts. We play for pure entertainment; not with the idea that we will come out ahead.

Taking a cruise is supposed to be fun, and lots of people have a great time gambling (including us). So if you think it’s a good time, there is no harm in playing. Just know that coming out a winner is more of an uphill climb than you may expect.

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