What’s The Deal With Cruise Ship Gambling?
The best thing about cruise ships crossing international waters is that gambling doesn’t come under the same regulations as when you’re on dry land.
Intrigued? We thought you would be.
So here’s a brief rundown of some of the rules surrounding gambling on cruise ships, beginning with the most basic, and golden, rule. That rule is that the boat is considered to be an extension of the country under whose flag it sails. Except when it sails into another’s territorial waters…
The Laws About Gambling at Sea
According to maritime law, the rules that govern all things seaworthy, gambling laws on the waves are determined by the nation the ship is registered with. Simple, eh?
Well, yes and no.
Once a ship is docked or within a certain distance from the coast of a country, then it becomes subject to the law of the land whose coastline it is.
For example, if you are sailing in US waters, activities are governed by US federal and state laws.
And, again under maritime law, international waters become territorial waters when the ship sails within three to 12 miles from the coastline. Should your cruise ship take you to within 12 miles of the coast of the US, the on-board casino will be closed for business.
So with a few exceptions, cruise ship casinos will shut up shop while the ship is docked, to comply with local gambling rules.
This means that if you’re exploring the US or another country where gambling is banned on shore, but you had hoped to spend a lot of time in a casino, keep this in mind — you may want to choose a cruise itinerary with a lot of sea days.
How Far Out to Sea You Need to Be to Gamble Legally
This depends on the country you have just cast off from.
Gambling laws in the US and the UK are very different. In the US, where casinos are restricted by state, ships must be a minimum of 12 miles out before the first dice is thrown.
When it comes to the UK Gambling Commission, things are far more relaxed. Cruise ships do need to have a premises license if they offer commercial gambling, but if the ship is “on a journey into or from international waters” then no premises license is even required at all. You can gamble away in UK waters without batting an eyelid.
The Countries Where Gambling is Banned (But You Can Get Around by Gambling at Sea…)
In the following countries, land-based gambling is illegal for visitors as well as natives, and the ship’s casino doors will only be open when you are the legal distance of 12 miles or more off-shore:
- American Samoa
- Cayman Islands
- Czech Republic
- Saudi Arabia
- Singapore (bar a few exemptions)
- United Arab Emirates
Countries To Keep An Eye On
Gambling laws can change quickly, so the above list is not exhaustive.
Always remember to do your research on local gambling laws before you roll the dice, but keep your eyes peeled for developments in some of these countries…
In some nations such as North Korea and Cambodia, land-based gambling is illegal for natives yet legal for visitors, which has led to a casino-tourism boom for the latter.
It’s reported that in Lebanon there is only one licensed casino on land. But this just means that inventive locals and tourists board a cruise ship from Beirut, Abou Merhi Cruises: Orient Queen, where you can gamble to your heart’s content off-shore.
You’ll find a similar situation in Israel, where casino betting on land is illegal, but there are a number of cruise ships with casinos in the major ports, that will allow you spin the roulette wheel in international waters.
Bermuda and Malta are two more nations where the waters are muddied, as gambling is permitted only in ports on overnighting cruise ships that have had a license approved, and between set hours.
While Japan has finally given the green light to the construction of three ‘integrated casino resorts’ — its first ever. But the news hasn’t been a hit with large swathes of the public with many people wondering whether casinos will increase crime levels in Japan.
Still, if you’re planning a cruise in Asia, these developments are worth keeping tabs on.
Legal Gambling Ages on Cruise Ships
Again, this works on an international vessel basis and, of course, on whose water you are floating at the time.
If you’re complying with US law, or are on specific ships that stop in US ports, you must be at least 21-years-old to gamble.
However, much like the rest of the rules, if the nation under whose flag you are sailing has a more liberal approach to gambling, then the age cut-off might drop to 18, as it is in the UK.
Even then, you could still be at the discretion of the cruise line, with some requiring that passengers aged between 18 and 21 be accompanied by a passenger over 21 if they want to gamble and drink.
If in doubt…always check before you book.
Taxes on Gambling Wins When You’re on a Cruise Ship
Ok, here’s where things get a little more complicated.
Paying taxes on your winnings really depends on whether the amount you win is deemed worthy of reporting to the state by the casino operators on board the ship.
Should somebody win over $1,200 in a single payout or enjoy a table game win with odds of 300/1 or more, then technically the house is required to provide the forms to the lucky winner — who can then pay the taxes on their haul.
But, they’ll only have to do this if the casino operators are based in a country that taxes its gambling winners.
The UK does not and has not done since it changed its laws back in 2001, so you can keep your cash if you’re in its waters.
Who Regulates Casinos on Cruise Ships?
The world’s largest cruise industry trade association, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) enforces some regulations and policies surrounding equipment, rules of play, internal audits, internal control procedures for cash counting, and customer service.
In general, CLIA tends to follow the regulatory standards and rules of play used by control boards, licensed jurisdictions and established casinos in Nevada and New Jersey in the US, or England in the UK.
But who do you contact if you have a gambling dispute on board a ship?
It’s unlikely you’ll find a representative or agent in the middle of your cruise, so your best bet is to first raise your issue with the onboard casino manager. If it can’t be resolved, you’ll then usually be directed to the ‘hotel’ manager or director.
In rare cases, when a dispute can’t be solved onboard, the policy is to direct patrons to the contact information for the main office or casino operator on land.
Gambling Vacations in 2020
Want your next trip to be a gambling one? It doesn’t get much better than a cruise. Essentially luxury hotels that sail between one exotic destination after another, cruise ships mean: all-inclusive and endless buffets, cringey but fun cabaret acts, a new location every day or two and, of course, a casino. Maybe even a great one…
Now you’re all clued up about gambling on cruise ships and the laws at sea, you can get planning your next trip!