8 Things You Should Know About Gambling for Real Money on Cruise Ships

Cruise Ship With Casino Sign and Chips in Background

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 most electric spot on the cruise ship.

In many ways the casinos on a cruise are very similar to what you’ll find on land, only on a smaller scale. If you’re someone who loves gaming, then you’ll feel right at home in a cruise ship 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, the tips and details below will make you a pro in no time and teach you everything you need to know before you try your luck.

1 – 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.

I want to mention one exception; Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America, a U.S.-flagged ship that sails Hawaii, is one of the few ships from a mass market cruise line without a casino.

The only major line I’ve heard of that doesn’t have gambling is Disney. Can’t really fault them, watching Donald Duck carve an ice sculpture with a chainsaw is likely a better way to spend an hour with your children.

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.

2 – What Are Cruise Casinos Like?

In many ways cruise ship gambling is similar to what you’ll find in brick and mortar casinos. This also means that while they all have a familiar feel with flashing lights and ringing bells, each casino definitely sports its own personality.

Generally, the gaming floor is tiny by the standards of land-based casinos. On many ships, you’ll usually find closed-in areas with relatively low ceilings because decks above and below limit the ceiling height. The low ceilings and maze of games give the casinos an intimate feel. Yet, they are some of the biggest rooms on a cruise ship.

Some ships, most notably the newest ships in Norwegian’s fleet, have roomier, more open casinos. On those ships, the casino floor opens up to the rest of the ship, giving it a brighter feel.

As for the atmosphere, within seconds of walking into a cruise ship casino you’ll completely forget that you’re on the open seas. Given the casino size and number of passengers, evenings can get crowded pretty easily. That means the casino will feel high energy, with lots of people cheering, noise from machines, and an overall festive atmosphere.

3 – What Are Payouts Like in the Casino?

You already know that the odds are always in the house’s favor when it comes to casino gambling. That’s especially true on a cruise. To put it mildly, 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 often find “6/5” machines, meaning they offer a 94.9% payback.

Cruise Ship Casino Entrance

For blackjack you’ll often 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.

Craps will have odds bets, but they will be restricted somewhat. The best you can hope for is 3X-4X-5X, but I’ve seen some ships with even lower bets available. They also have the “Big 6/8” bets at tables that have a higher house edge.

So go to the casino and have a blast, but if your only goal is to get the best payouts, then you are often better off with land-based casinos.

4 – What’s the Gambling Age on a Cruise Ship?

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 the minimum age to gamble is only 18 years old. If you’ve ever wanted to try your luck but aren’t old enough to head to Las Vegas, a cruise ship might be just the place for you.

5 – Casino 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. Minimums among all games are low, making it relatively cheap and easy for any level of player to enjoy themselves.

Obviously, there are penny slots as you’ll find in any casino. For table games you will find minimums starting at around $5 for most games.

This makes sense considering the potential customer base on a cruise. With only a few thousand people on the ship the cruise needs to be sure to appeal to the most people possible. Of course they also are aware that they have a captive audience.

Having said that, I have seen table games starting to climb towards a $10 minimum rather than $5.

6 – What Casino Games Are Available on a Cruise?

Like playing real money slots? You’re covered. In fact, whatever your game, they have them all. Despite the small size of cruise ship casinos compared to brick and mortar, they offer a vast selection of games.

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.

Many cruise lines are also now offering their own scratch-off tickets available for purchase, as well as big lotto-style drawings with jackpots worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

7 – When Are the Casinos 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. It will open up later that night after the ship has set sail.

During the days that the ship is docked the games are closed, but available once the ship exits the jurisdiction of the port country. So on days at sea, the casino will be open 24 hours a day.

Casino Royale Cruise Ship Casino

Note that if you want to play during off hours, like early in the morning on a day at sea, the table games may not be staffed. However, coin pushers and slot machines will still be available to play at your leisure.

8 – Keep Your Sea Legs

Which brings me to my next point. Fun, that’s what this experience should be all about. People’s definitions of fun can vary.

If you’re planning a trip with your friends or family without kids around, fun can often mean staying up late and partying, which means drinking. I recommend alternating nights to make life easier for you during the daytime.

If you’re planning a big night “out” at the casino, don’t spend the evening taking shots. Basically, just be a responsible adult, and you’ll be fine.

Treat your gambling funds as part of the trip’s expenses, no different from food and drinks, fine dining, and shopping with no expectation of returns.

Really, this should be pretty much the same mentality you have when managing your bankroll at any regular land-based. You should be playing with no more than you can stand to lose. Beware of the ATM.

Conclusion

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, for real money, 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. In addition, the stakes are typically low, so there’s usually not a ton of money at stake.