Cruise Ship Casinos: Everything You Need to Know

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Gambling is one of the most popular activities on a cruise ship. Whether you are just trying your luck or an avid poker player, cruise ship casinos offer a little of something for everyone.

Nearly every cruise ship offers a casino. But before you play, there are some essential things to know.

While cruise ship casinos share many similarities with land-based gaming centers, there are some essential differences.

From game selection to payouts, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cruise ship casinos.

What to Expect from Cruise Ship Casinos?

Casino Royale onboard Ovation of the Seas

Cruise ship casinos closely resemble those found on land.

Many are styled after those found in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

You’ll be greeted by flashing lights, dinging bells, cards shuffling, and drinks clinking when walking into the casino.

Each cruise ship has a different look and feels for its casino. Some provide a contemporary atmosphere, while others add a bit more creativity with Egyptian or Roman themes.

Walking around the casino feels a little claustrophobic. With limited space, cruise ships try to cram as many tables and slot machines as possible into the small area. But, once you find a seat, you won’t even notice.

What Are the Payouts?

Interior of the casino on large cruise ship Carnival Cruise Lines Carnival Conquest

In every casino, the odds always favor the house. And that’s is especially true at sea.

Payouts on cruise ships are far lower than on land.

On land, video poker games pay 9/6, or nine credits for a full house and six for a flush. But on a cruise ship, the payouts are lowered to 6/5.

For blackjack, it’s common to find that tables pay 6-to-5 instead of the usual 3-to-2.

Poker players will also be disappointed to find tables with a high rake (the “fee” paid by the winner to the house after each hand).

Because of the high rake, most poker players avoid cash games on cruise ships. It’s rare to find a cash game, even rarer to see a full table.

But thankfully, there are poker tournaments that offer lower fees to play (more on that later).

Gambling Age on a Cruise Ship

Casino Royal on Serenade of the Seas taken during our 2022 cruise to Alaska

On a cruise ship, the minimum gambling age is 18.

While the minimum age in most states is 21, cruise ship casinos often operate in international waters, which allows them to lower the gambling age to eighteen.

However, cruises to Alaska require passengers to be at least 21 years of age to gamble.

Cruise Ship Casino Games

On a cruise ship, you’ll find plenty of traditional games, including:

  • Slots
  • Blackjack
  • Roulette
  • Poker
  • Texas Hold ’em
  • Video Poker
  • Big Wheel
  • Three Card Poker
  • Craps
  • Baccarat
  • “Skill Crane”
  • Coin Pusher (with quarters instead of tokens)

Despite the small size of the casinos, cruise ships offer a surprisingly wide range of games.

You’ll always find popular games like blackjack, roulette, and slots.

Many cruise lines also feature games not found on land. For example, the coin pusher is exactly like the arcade machines, but with quarters instead of tokens. Try your best to push the quarters over the edge and maybe a bill or two.

The “Skill Crane” puts a twist on a long-time favorite where you try to line up a key to its hole. If you’re successful, the key will pass through the hole, pushing over a stack of bills.

Casino Minimums for Table Games and Slot Machines

Cruise ship casinos offer plenty of low-stakes games with minimums of less than $5.

You’ll always find plenty of penny slot machines and table games starting at $5.

Which Cruise Lines Have Casinos?

Cruise Ship Casinos

Nearly every major cruise line offers casinos onboard their ships.

Mainstream cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, and Costa Cruises have casinos onboard their vessels.

The only major brand that doesn’t offer casinos is Disney Cruise Line. Disney caters primarily to families and young kids, and you won’t find a casino on their vessels.

The other exception is Norwegian’s Pride of America cruise ship. The vessel sails year-round to Hawaii and is one of the only major cruise ships without a casino.

You’ll often find the casino in the middle of the ship, near the promenade or atrium.

Casino Hours of Operation

Passengers Playing blackjack in the Princess Cruises cruise ship casinos

Depending on the cruise ship’s location, the onboard casino may be regulated by several agencies.

Cruise lines follow a simple rule: the casino is open while the ship is sailing.

When the ship is docked at the port, the casino is closed. It only opens later at night once the vessel has set sail, having left the port country’s jurisdiction.

As a rule, when the cruise ship is within three to twelve miles of the coastline, it will close the casino to comply with local gambling regulations.

However, there are two significant exceptions:

  1. In Alaska, cruise ship casinos are permitted to open 3 miles after leaving port and must close three miles before reaching the next port of call.
  2. The casino can remain open in countries with more relaxed gambling laws (such as Malta and Bermuda).

On sea days, the casino will be open most of the day. While the casino is available during the daytime, the table games might not be staffed during non-peak hours (early morning).

But there are always slot games and video poker while you wait.

Cruise Casino Loyalty Programs

A row of slot machines in the casino of the cruise ship Norwegian Gem

Most cruise lines offer casino loyalty programs. You’ll earn points when you play, which can be redeemed for drinks, discounts, and future cruises.

Smoking in the Casino

Smoking rules vary by cruise line, but you’ll find that most cruise ships permit smoking, at least in a small section of the casino.

Although smoking might be allowed, we generally find that the smoke smell isn’t overwhelming. But, if you’re sensitive to smoke, you might not feel comfortable gambling on a cruise ship. Even when smoking is reserved for a small section, the tiny casino means it’s hard to get away from the smell.

Tournaments

You might find poker, blackjack, and slot tournaments during the cruise.

The tournaments usually take place on sea days during off-peak times (late morning or early afternoon.)

The tournaments are fun because they allow guests to win a large amount of money while only risking a small entry fee.

For poker players, tournaments are the best chance of winning any money at the tables. The cash game rake eats away so much money that most poker players avoid cash games at all costs.

Unlike cash games, there’s no rake in a poker tournament. For a small fee, players have a chance at winning a large pot of money or a free cruise.

Beginner Classes

Cruise ships provide an excellent place for beginners to learn in a comfortable environment. The casino staff is there to make sure guests have an enjoyable time. Their more than happy to assist if you’re new to a game.

Most casinos offer gaming lessons on the first few days of the cruise. During the class, a dealer will explain the game’s rules, basic strategy, and table etiquette.

Best of all, it doesn’t cost any money to learn.

The classes are great because they provide a quiet place to learn before real money games begin.

Cruise Ship Casino FAQs

Are Drinks Free in the Casino?

Unlike land-based casinos, cruise ships don’t offer free drinks while you play.

You’ll have to pay for drinks, just as you would anywhere else on the ship. And the prices are the same.

You won’t need to go too far to find a bar. Cruise ship casinos have bars in the center or near the front of the venue.

Are There ATMs on the Ship?

If you need cash to play, there are ATMs on the ship. If there isn’t an ATM in the casino, you’ll usually find it beside guest services.

Just note that ATM fees on a ship are very high.

Do I Need Cash to Play?

You can use cash or your cruise card to play at the cruise ship casino.

Can I Play Using My Cruise Card?

You can play casino games using your cruise card. Simply swipe your card as you normally would when purchasing a drink or shopping on the ship.

Are Cruise Casinos Beginner Friendly?

The casino on cruise ships is beginner friendly. If it’s your first time in a casino, or you want to try a new game, the casino staff are more than happy to teach you the games.

We’ve also found that other passengers are always welcoming toward new players. Unlike large casinos, most passengers are not hardcore gamblers and are usually friendly toward new players.

Are there High Stakes Tables?

Very few cruise ships offer high-stakes tables. However, on some cruise lines, the pit boss may arrange a high-stakes game if enough players are willing to play a high-stakes game.

Will There be Penny Slots?

Yes, all cruise casinos have penny slots. Penny slots are one of the most popular game choices at the casino.

But be warned, many penny slots offer multiple variations, which could cost over $1 per spin.

Do Cruise Ships Have Poker Tournaments?

Most cruise ships offer poker tournaments during the cruise. After paying the buy-in, players can compete to win a prize ranging from cash to a free cruise.

On Royal Caribbean, the Texas Hold ’em tournament winners are eligible for a free cruise for two. The free cruise is where the final Royal Poker Tournament is held. With a guaranteed prize of $100,000.

Do Cruise Ships Have Blackjack Tournaments?

Yes, cruise ships have blackjack tournaments. Many of the tournaments allow passengers to rebuy if they lose.

While passengers who rebuy have a better chance of winning, you aren’t likely to win big unless you plan to rebuy several times.

Do Cruise Ships Have Slot Tournaments?

Yes, cruise ships have blackjack tournaments. Many of the tournaments allow passengers to rebuy if they lose.

While passengers who rebuy have a better chance of winning, you aren’t likely to win big unless you plan to rebuy several times.

Is the Cruise Ship Casino Open 24/7?

No, while casino hours vary, the casino is usually open when the ship is at sea. The casino may open when docked at a port country that allows cruise casinos to operate, such as Malta and Bermuda.
While at sea, the ship’s casino may stay open until 2 or 3 in the morning. And reopen around 11:00 am on sea days.

Are There Taxes on Casino Winnings?

There are taxes on casino winnings. All U.S. citizens must report casino winnings to the IRS regardless of where the winnings occur.

If you win $1,200 or more or win a table game with odds of 300-to-1, the cruise line will issue a W-2G form. A copy of the form is sent to the IRS and another to the winner.

Additionally, some cruise ship casinos will provide the option to have the taxes deducted from your winnings. Or, you can take the total amount and pay the taxes on your own.

Do Disney Cruise Ships Have a Casino?

Disney Cruise Line is the only mainstream cruise line that does not have casinos on its cruise ships. Disney is best known for their family-friendly cruise vacations. You won’t find a casino on any vessel in their fleet.

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Marcello

I’ve been cruising since I was 11 years old. I love the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. I love to share my passion for cruising and travel with readers.

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