Onboard Casino Planned for World’s Largest Yacht Project, Which Will Have to Navigate Maritime Gaming Laws

Posted on: February 11, 2019, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: February 11, 2019, 06:11h.

A 750-foot mega-yacht that would include its own shipboard casino — a project predicted to cost $775 million to build, although it is still on the drawing board — would outstage the current record-holder for world’s largest, the 590-foot, $400 million Azzam.

Project Valkyrie, left, may soon overtake the current largest yacht in size and cost, and will include a casino on board. But international and US laws for spreading games at sea may require legal counsel to sort out. (Images: Lürssen Yachts/CNBC/Chulhun Design)

The latter was designed for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but the new contender for the heavyweight yacht title is still in search of a buyer.

Designs for the new ship — which is going by the name Project Valkyrie and is sponsored by Monaco-based marine builder Palmer Johnson — are complete, but construction has yet to start. To date, a few unnamed parties have reportedly expressed interest, but no one has written a check as of yet.

Multiple Decks for Right Owner

Who might the well-bankrolled buyer be for such an extravagance? Often, features on yachts reflect the interests and passions of their owners, explains Matthew R. Werner, who is dean and a professor at the Webb Institute, one of the premier naval architecture and marine engineering schools in the world in Glen Cove, New York.

“Perhaps the potential owner is an avid gambler or perhaps they have significant interests in the gaming industry,” Werner told Casino.org on Monday. “Placing a casino onboard would definitely be a personal touch in that case.”

Or, the casino could be a draw if the owner wants to charter the yacht to wealthy passengers down the line. Casinos have, of course, been found on commercial cruise ships for decades.  “By including this [casino] feature, the owners may be furthering that private cruise ship concept,” Werner said.

Plus, sailing to international waters may provide lucrative gambling opportunities. “Think private, high stakes games,” Werner said, who could think of no other large yacht with its own full-fledged casino, although some may have poker tables or other limited table games onboard.

The casino would be part of an impressive onboard array of amenities usually reserved for brick-and-mortar locales, including theaters, restaurants, meeting space, and art galleries. The yacht will be designed to hold up to 52 guests in 26 cabins, along with 92 crew members in 46 cabins.

For those who have seen the popular Bravo reality TV show Below Deck — which features multimillion dollar yachts for hire among generally demanding charter guests sailing anywhere from the Mediterranean to Tahiti — you’ll know those crew “cabins” may bear a closer resemblance to human shoe boxes, while the guest rooms are luxuriously appointed and spacious.

In contrast, the Emir’s Azzam has 18 passenger cabins and 30 crew cabins, but likely no gaming on board, which would be a violation of Islamic sharia law.

Roll of the Dice

Chulhun Park — the 36-year-old designer of Project Valkyrie — told the UK’s Sun tabloid that he wanted to design a “very unique-looking yacht,” and from his renderings, he has succeeded in that goal. After creating Project Valkyrie as his thesis at the Royal College of Art in London, he was brought on and is now chief designer at Latvia’s Latitude Yachts, whose website designs show a variety of futuristic-looking vessels for the rich and richer.

One interesting design issue Werner notes is that because it will have a casino, rolling and pitching might affect how a dice roll turns out or where the ball ends up on roulette wheel. To remedy that possibility, there are systems that can reduce ship motion, he told Casino.org, and also pointed out that if a lot of cash is on board for casino play, security on the high seas might become a significant concern.

Gambling at Sea: Complex Legalities

Wealth aside, the new ship’s owner may have some legal issues to sort out before he or she can spread any games.

Gambling laws on the high seas are complex. To be beyond the reach of any US state laws that may prohibit gambling, the yacht will have to be three nautical miles from most coastlines, except in the case of Texas and the Gulf Coast of Florida, where it will need to be nine nautical miles from shore.

Martin J. Davies — a professor at Tulane University Law School, where he also directs the Maritime Law Center — said to be beyond the reach of national laws in other countries prohibiting gambling, the ship will need to be further out yet: at least 12 nautical miles from the coastline.

Beyond those limits, the ship is in the territory of whatever country it is registered in, Davies explained to Casino.org. If gambling is legal in that country, it is also legal on board.