10 Major Ways Cruise Casinos Are Different From Traditional Casinos

If you take a cruise, then the odds are high that you’re going to end up spending at least a little time in the ship’s casino. While today’s cruise ships offer a ton of things to do and see, when it comes to late-night activities, there’s little on the ship that beats the draw of gambling.

And at first glance, the cruise ship casino looks the exact same as any casino you might see on land, just noticeably smaller. Walking in, you’ll see the familiar lights of the slot machine, hear the celebration of the craps table, and smell the familiar “smoky” smell that accompanies gambling.

But at closer look, casinos on cruise ships are noticeably different than what you’ll find on shore. Below, we’ve outlined what to expect about placing bets on a cruise ship and how it might be different than what you’re normally used to.

Cruise Ship Casinos Are Only Open Limited Hours

Casino closed on the ship

Head to a casino on land and it will always be open. Whether you want to gamble at 7 a.m. Christmas morning or 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, you’ll always find land-based casinos welcoming your business.

On a cruise ship, casinos offer limited hours. First, they are closed while the cruise ship is in ports of call, usually to adhere to local regulations. They are also closed in the mornings while the ship is underway. Most casinos will open late morning (typically around 11 a.m. local time) and stay open throughout the day and well into the next morning’s hours. If you’re an early-morning gambler then you’ll have to wait.

Also, if you like table games then you may have to wait to play, even if the casino is open. Games like craps where there aren’t always a large number of players often stay shuttered until later in the afternoon.

You Only Need to be 18 Years Old to Gamble

Want to head to Las Vegas? You need to be 21 to gamble. It’s the same age requirement in most land-based casinos in the United States (though not all). However, if you want to play on a cruise ship, then the minimum age required is just 18 years old.

Cruises Offer All the Normal Games… And Then Some

coin pusher machine on a cruise

Cruise ship casinos have all the games you would expect at any casino. This includes slot machines, video poker, blackjack, craps, and roulette. If you’re a fan of more obscure table games like pai gow, or a specific type of slot machine, then it’s unlikely the cruise ship will have it (although they do offer some variations).

What’s most interesting, however, is that there are some games offered on a cruise that you’d never find in a traditional casino. For instance, there are “skill crane” games you’d normally find in an arcade, but instead of offering a stuffed animal as a prize, it offers stacks of cash. Another game is the “coin pusher” game that drops coins in front of a lever in hopes of pushing cash and prizes over the edge.

Cruise Ship Minimums Are Low (Great for Low-Stakes Gamblers!)

Cruise casinos offer low minimums

Worried about blowing your budget? Well, it’s a risk at any casino, but the good news is that cruise ship casinos have low minimums. With only a few thousand people (at most) on the ship, the cruise lines don’t want to scare away potential gamblers with high stakes. Tables games will have $5 minimums, while penny slots are plentiful. If you want to bet more you certainly can, but if you just want to play without risking a lot, you’re in luck.

Cruise Ship Casinos Don’t Offer Free Drink Service

One of the hallmarks of gambling is the free drink service offered. As long as you’re playing, then land-based casinos are happy to keep you drinking. It’s totally different on a cruise ship.

Since alcohol is such a big revenue generator on cruises, there is no free cocktail service in the ship’s casino. There are bars, but you’ll need to buy your drinks unless you’re a pretty big player.

Smoking Is Allowed in the Ship’s Casino

When you first step on a cruise ship, you’ll learn quickly that smoking is prohibited just about everywhere. You can’t smoke in your cabin. Restaurants on the ship are non-smoking. And there’s no smoking in interior portions of the ship, unless it’s the casino. When you’re playing, smoking is perfectly fine (although that may change in the future).

So what if you’re a gambler who doesn’t like cigarette smoke? Your best bet is to either go during off-hours when the casino isn’t as busy, or try to find a spot away from any smokers. The good news is that the air filtration on ships is pretty good (especially on newer, more modern ships) so unless someone is smoking right next to you, it’s harder to notice.

Payouts Are Pretty Bad on Cruise Casinos

blackjack payout marker on carnival cruise

What happens when you mix a “captive” audience on a cruise ship with the only casino around? Poor payouts. We’ve written extensively about the payouts on cruise ship casinos. For example, you’ll find blackjack tables that pay 6-to-5 on blackjack instead of the traditional 3-to-2. Video poker machines typically offer low payouts (6/5 and 7/5 machines are the norm), and craps tables allow only 1X odds on your bet. You can click here for more details and examples. Just don’t expect friendly payouts, although it is possible to win big:

Some Cruise Lines Don’t Make It Easy to Cash Out

In a typical casino, if you want to cash out at a machine, you just hit the cash out button and a slip of paper with your balance is printed out. You can then take that ticket and put it into another machine or take it to a redemption machine and get your cash.

Some cruise lines make it more difficult to get your cash. You use your card to keep track of your balance and to cash out — but you have to go to the cashier’s desk to actually get money back. So if you put in $20 and hit a jackpot for $100, to cash out you’ll have to hit the cash out button, and then take your card and wait in line at the cashier to actually get money.

If you sail on a ship with the traditional ticket redemption machines, consider yourself lucky.

Tournaments Are Common on Cruise Ships

Love a good slot tournament? What about blackjack tournaments? No matter what your poison, there are tons of tournaments in the ship’s casino. They are usually cheap to enter — just $20 or so. And if you win, then you can get some cool prizes like cash or even a free cruise.

Best of all? With a limited number of people on the ship, you don’t have a ton of competition like you would in a large casino. In other words, your odds of winning are better than you would usually find in a regular casino.

Cruise Ship Casinos Actually Have Windows

Ever gambled in a casino with a view? Of course not. It’s an age-old tactic used by land-based casinos to limit the amount of natural light coming in to keep people playing longer instead of thinking about the time. Many cruise ship casinos offer plentiful windows running down the sides of the ship. And if you get a seat near one, you can have a great view of the passing water while playing. It’s a unique view for a casino and actually makes us want to stick around longer!

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