When it comes to cruising, gambling in the ship’s casino is one of the most popular activities. In fact, in the late evening it can be the busiest spot on the cruise ship.
In many ways the casinos on a cruise are very similar to what you’ll find on land — just on a smaller scale. If you’re someone who loves gaming, then you’ll feel right at home in a cruise casino.
That said, there are still a number of things you should know before gambling on a cruise. If you’ve never placed a bet on a ship, these will make you a pro in no time and teach you everything you need to know before you try your luck.
Which Cruise Ships Have Casinos
If you’re wondering if there will be a casino on your ship, you can rest assured there will be. Mass market lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and the like always have casinos on the ship. The only major line we’ve heard of that doesn’t have gambling is Disney.
You’ll find the casinos located in the middle of the ship, typically near the most highly-trafficked areas. So if your ship has a main promenade, the casino will be right near it. This makes sense, putting the casino easily accessible means it’s easier for players to find and gamble.
The gaming floor is small by the standards of land-based casinos, and the ceilings are low. The low ceilings and maze of games gives the casinos a cozy feel. Still, they are among the largest rooms on a cruise ship.
Payouts for Games
Everyone knows that the odds are always in the house’s favor when it comes to gambling. That’s especially the case on a cruise. We’ve written before about how the games on the ship don’t pay that well.
For example, the gold standard for video poker is a “9/6” machine — one that pays nine credits for a full house and six for a flush. This gives an expected payout of 99.5% if proper strategy is used over the long term. On ships you will find “6/5” machines, meaning they offer a 94.9% payback.
For blackjack you’ll usually find tables that pay 6-to-5 on blackjack instead of the normal 3-to-2. If you play a higher-limit table then you might still find 3-to-2 payouts.
So go to the casino and have fun, but if you’re plan is to get the best payouts, then you are better off with land-based casinos.
Age Limits for Cruise Ship Casinos
While there are some exceptions, the majority of places in the United States require you to be 21 to gamble in a casino. On a cruise — which heads to international waters — the age minimum is just 18. If you’ve ever wanted to try your luck but haven’t been old enough to head to Las Vegas, a cruise ship might be your best bet.
Limits for Table Games and Slot Machines
If you’re a low-stakes gambler, then you’ll feel right at home on a cruise ship. Limits across games are low, making it affordable for any level of player to enjoy themselves.
Of course, there are penny slots as you’ll find in any casino (along with higher-stakes machines if you feel so inclined). On table games you will find $5 minimums for most games. This makes sense considering the potential customer base on a cruise. With only a few thousand people on the ship (compared to millions of people within a drive of a regular casino) the cruise needs to be sure to appeal to the most people possible.
The one exception we know of is that Norwegian Cruises has higher limits in our experience. There, we’ve seen table games starting at $10 instead of $5.
Casino Games Available on a Cruise
Like playing slots? You’re covered. What about blackjack… or craps… or roulette? They have them all. Despite the small size of cruise ship casinos compared to those on land, they offer a wide variety of games.
For instance, while you won’t find table after of blackjack, there will be a few, and usually one craps table. There is also roulette and often other specialty table games like WPT Heads Up Hold ‘Em. Texas Hold ‘Em poker is also popular, with tournaments and play throughout the cruise.
What’s a little surprising is that there are several games you won’t ever find on land that are on a cruise. One is similar to a “skill crane” where you use a joystick to move a key to push down stacks of dollar bills. But perhaps the most popular are the coin pusher machines.
The coin pusher machines are exactly like you’d find in an arcade, but instead of tokens they use quarters. You can try your luck to push quarters over the edge, along with wads of cash that are also in the machines.
When the Casinos Are Open
As you might guess, there are a number of laws that oversee casino gambling, depending on the jurisdiction the ship is in. That’s why there’s a simple rule — the casino is open when the ship is at sea.
On the day that you board the casino will be closed (although you are still free to enter and check out the offerings). It will open up later that night after the ship has set sail. As well, during the days that the ship is docked the games are closed, but available once the ship exits the jurisdiction of the port country.
Note that if you want to play during off hours — such as early in the morning on a day at sea — then table games might not be staffed. However, coin pushers and slot machines will still be available to play.
Cruise Ship Casinos Are Beginner Friendly
If there is a casino game you’ve always wanted to play, but have been too intimidated to pull up a chair, then a cruise is perfect for you. Not only is it less intimidating than a regular casino, but they even offer classes on table games for beginning players. You can come and learn how to play free of charge so that when it’s time to play for real money you aren’t as intimidated.
In addition, the vibe at a cruise casino is simply more friendly. Remember that the dealers want to make sure you have an enjoyable time on the cruise and your other passengers are typically in a good mood (and not hardcore gamblers). In addition the stakes are typically low, so there’s not a ton of money at stake.
Other Things to Know About Gambling on a Cruise
Loyalty Programs — Yes, there are loyalty programs on a cruise ship, just like on land. You’ll earn points for your play that can be redeemed for things like drinks, discounts off your cruise tab and even pay for future cruises.
Smoking — While smoking is banned in indoor spaces across the ship, it is allowed in the casinos. If you don’t like smoke, then be warned that the smaller size of the casinos on the ship means that the smell of smoke is strong.
Tournaments — There are slot and blackjack tournaments on the ship. They typically take place during off hours for the casino (such as late morning or early afternoon). These tournaments can win you some money while risking only the admission fee.
Drinks — It’s common in most casinos to get free drinks while you gamble, but that’s not the case on a cruise. If you achieve a high enough status you can get free beverages, but usually you will be paying out of pocket for alcohol.
Have more questions about gambling on a cruise? Let us know in the comments below.