How Is Gambling Regulated On Cruise Ships?

cruise ship queen mary 2Anyone that has ever been on a cruise will doubtless have come across an area of the ship where they were able to gamble. Some of the bigger ships have dedicated casino sections, whilst others will offer guests the ability to play some table games or even use slot machines. The ships are only allowed to open these areas once they are in international waters, which begs a lot of questions when it comes to regulation.

If you’re on a cruise ship and feel as though you’ve been screwed out of some winnings, who is it that you can turn to to make a complaint? If you win, do you need to pay tax on your winnings? Is there a body or organisation that controls gambling when it’s done on a cruise ship? When it comes to the governance of all things at sea, maritime law rules the roost, but things change when you get within a certain distance of dry land.

What The Law Says

legal explanationMaritime law is a complicated one to look at, given many of the rules and regulations offered by it were drawn up hundreds of years ago. In simple terms, the gambling laws in place whilst a cruise ship is at sea are those of the country that the ship is registered with. In other words, if the ship is registered to a country where gambling is illegal then it’s likely that it’s also going to be illegal whilst on board.

Things become slightly more complicated when a ship docks, given that the cruise then becomes governed by the country at which it is located. It is even the case that the rules and laws on board a ship become linked to the nearest coastline when it has encroached within a certain distance. This can be anything from three miles to 12 miles, depending on the country and how its laws work.

The second a ship moves from international waters into territorial waters, the laws that govern it are those of the territory that it has entered. If a cruise takes you within 12 miles of the American coastline, for example, no real money gambling will be allowed and the casino will have to follow the rules and regulations of the United States of America in terms of both state and federal laws.

This is an important thing to bear in mind if you’re looking to go on a cruise specifically to gamble. You need to have a look at the rules and regulations that apply to the countries that you’ll be docking at, as well as the country that the ship is registered to. This is also important when it comes to your age. A ship that is registered in the United States will require bettors to be at least 21, whilst one register in the United Kingdom will allow 18-year-olds to gamble.

What Sort Of Casino Will My Cruise Ship Have?

casino on a cruise shipNot all cruise ships have casinos. As a good rule of thumb, the bigger a cruise ship is the more likely it is to offer a casino, but there are always exceptions that prove that rule. At the time of writing, for example, none of the Disney Cruise Line ships offer a casino and they’re all quite big. If it does have a casino, though, then the chances are that you’ll be able to play on a number of slot machines, as well as table games.

The likes of blackjack, Texas Hold’em, Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride are commonly found on cruise ships. Roulette isn’t unheard of either, adding a sense of collegiate partying to the casino on offer. Some ships have human dealers, whilst others have electronic tables that carry out the work for you. Some ships will have a craps table and there can be the likes of a baccarat table on offer in certain circumstances.

The slot machines will offer a range of games and, more importantly, a range of different budgets. You can expect to find at least a couple of penny slots, for example, as well as slots with significantly higher minimums. There are rarely high roller slots or tables, unless there are a number of high rollers that wish to engage in a game and persuade the pit boss to let them do just that.

How Does The Tax Work?

tax calculatorOne of the most important questions that people planning to gamble when on a cruise ship will want an answer to is about how any tax they owe on winnings will work. This is a complex situation, with the main thing you need to know about being whether or not the casino operator deems your win to be worth reporting to the relevant authorities. If you bet £5 on roulette and win £5 then walk away from the table, is that worth the paperwork?

If a player wins on a table game that has odds of 300/1 or more or walk away from the slots with a prize of more than £1,200, for example, the casino should supply them with the necessary paperwork to declare their winnings. What makes things even more complex is the fact that this will depend on where the casino operators are based and where the ship is at the time of the win, with the authority in charge of the ship dictating the outcome.

In the United Kingdom, nobody needs to pay tax on casino winnings. As a result, if the ship is either registered in the UK or else in British waters at the time that you earn some winnings, you won’t need to pay tax on a single penny. It’s entirely different if the ship is registered in the United States of America, however, so working out where it is that the ship is registered is a really important part of your gambling experience on the high seas.  If you do need to pay tax then in some instances it is possible to claim that tax back if the UK has a tax treaty with the country the ship is registered in.

Who Regulates On-Board Casinos?

cruise ship advert showing casino gamesIt’s not unheard of for people to have disputes when it comes to gambling. Whether you feel as though you’ve been screwed out of some winnings, the casino operator is being unfair or you simply want to complain about the way that the casino is being operated, you need to know who you can get in touch with. The first place to turn is to the Cruise Lines International Association, which is the industry’s largest trade association.

They deal with the regulations and polices that are in place over the rules of play, the equipment used, the controls used internally for counting cash, the internal audits and a number of customer service issues. Whilst the CLIA will typically follow the regulatory standard of the control boards in the areas that the ship operates, it’s obviously going to be difficult to get hold of one of their representatives when you’re in the middle of your cruise.

As such, the first thing to do is to register your complaint with the pit boss. If they can’t resolve anything then they might well pass you on to the casino manager, who tends to have more power and more control over situations. If the casino manager can’t help then the ‘hotel manager’ or ‘hotel director’ on the cruise ship will be brought in to resolve matters. If things still can’t be sorted, they will almost certainly direct you to get in touch with the main office of the casino operator when on land.

They Don’t Need To Please You

casino floor graphic showing tables slots players cashier dealersUnfortunately, the reality of cruise ship-based casinos is that they don’t really need to please the patrons on board. This doesn’t mean that they’ll actively attempt to screw people over, rather that they don’t have any competition when it comes to the odds that they offer. This is why slot machines on casinos are usually not priced particularly competitively and instead will have eye-watering Return To Player percentages.

If you were wandering through a casino in Las Vegas or London and saw an RTP of, say, 80% you’d almost certainly keep on walking. There are plenty of other casinos around that will have much more reasonably RTPs in place on their slots. When you’re on a cruise ship, however, the casino operator knows that you’ve got nothing but time and money to spare and can’t exactly swim over to a different ship, so they can be far less generous.

For this reason, you’d always be well-placed to avoid playing on a slot machine on board a cruise ship unless you’ve seen the Return To Player percentage and it is much more inline with what you would expect to find a land-based casino. Instead, the likes of roulette, blackjack and other table games will tend to have the same sorts of payouts that you’d find in a normal casino and therefore are much more like what you should be aiming for if you’re determined to gamble whilst at sea.