If you ever travelled around the world on a cruise ship, then perhaps you are aware that you can access a variety of gambling opportunities after embarking on many ships. Most vessels include casinos for you to visit, featuring slot machines aplenty and even table games like blackjack and roulette. Therefore, even if you are at sea, you can still enjoy the casino games that you like to play.
But how is this form of gambling regulated? Cruise ships move around the sea and don’t really become part of a country’s laws because of this. How is it possible for a cruise liner to provide this service to its passengers? Are there specific rules surrounding gambling on cruise ships and what are these laws? After all, you need to feel that you’re safe when playing the games on a ship, and that you have a route to take when it comes to any complaints.
Therefore, we’re going to take a look at how gambling is regulated on cruise ships and how it all works. Furthermore, do you need to pay any tax on the money that you win when playing the games and who do you contact and complain to if things go wrong with the games? Let’s take a closer look at gambling on cruise ships.
The Laws Around Gambling at Sea
One of the best perks of being aboard a cruise liner that crosses international waters is that gambling is not under the same regulations as when you’re on land. The basic rule that stands out though, is that the boat you are sailing on is considered as an extension of the country whose flag it sails under. Unless it sails into another country’s territorial waters, that is.
Maritime law dictates that gambling on the waves is determined by the nation that the ship is registered with. If you’re aboard a cruise liner that is registered in the United Kingdom, then the regulations in place will be the same as those governing the people on land in the UK, too. However, that is a very basic rule, and it’s not quite as simple as that.
Upon a ship docking with a country or being within a certain distance from the coast of a country, then it becomes subject to the laws regulating gambling within the country whose coastline it is. If you are on a cruise liner that sets sail from the UK, then while it is in UK waters and international waters, it is governed by the laws that regulate gambling there. However, let’s say that the ship sails across the Atlantic Ocean towards the United States of America. Once it enters into the US coastline and into dock, then it is regulated by the laws of that country. Territorial coastline sea is labelled as being 3-12 nautical miles from the coast, so if you are in U.S. territorial waters, then no gambling would be permitted.
The casino onboard a cruise liner would shut up shop so as to comply with the local gambling laws, depending upon where it is sailing/docking. This is something to be aware of if you’re intending to spend a lot of your time gambling in the casino of a liner.
How far away from the coast of a country should a cruise liner be before its casino can open up, though? Well, that all depends upon the country that you have cast off from. Let’s say that you have visited the U.S. and you’re moving on towards Africa, for the sake of argument. Ships need to be a minimum of 12 nautical miles out before the casino is able to start operating, as this is U.S. law. On the other hand, if you were leaving the United Kingdom on a UK registered ship, then you wouldn’t need to wait at all. Gambling laws are much more relaxed in the UK, so you can start gambling as soon as you embark, if you like.
In reality, though, few cruise ships are registered in the UK these days and so standard practice is that you will need to wait for the ship to be outside territorial waters to gamble.
Games are also influenced by the country the ship is registered in. For example, if the ship was UK registered you would see European roulette on the ship (with a single zero), if the ship is regulated in a US territory you will see American roulette, with zero and double zero.
Countries Where Gambling Has Been Banned
Land-based gambling is illegal in some countries, meaning that both natives and visitors to the country cannot partake in such. This relates to any cruise ships sailing to the coasts of these locations too, which you should be prepared for if you’re on a multi-country cruise holiday. However, once you have sailed more than 12 nautical miles away from the coast of these countries, you will find that if the ship does have a casino, its doors will open up. Those countries include locations like:
- American Samoa
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Multiple other countries also ban gambling activities within their borders, but do not possess any sort of coastline for ships to sail to. Of course, gambling laws are never specifically in place permanently, meaning that they can change and allow cruise liners to a country’s coasts with players able to engage in casino gaming while there.
Some countries are also quite sketchy when it comes to gambling laws, too. Sometimes, it is the case that these locations incorporate a ban on gambling for natives, but readily support visitors in their gambling endeavours. This is certainly true of locations like Cambodia and North Korea, and because of this, casino-tourism within the former of these places has boomed.
If you look at Lebanon, on the other hand, there is just a single licensed casino in the vicinity. However, due to this, locals and tourists can easily board a cruise ship from the capital city of Beirut, which allows you to gamble as much as possible while off-shore. That’s also similar to what occurs in Israel, with casino gambling on land being illegal there, but a number of exciting cruise ships being present for players to embark upon.
It’s also key to keep a check on Malta and Bermuda, where there is a bit of muddy water surrounding gambling. Gambling is permitted in ports on cruise ships docking there overnight and that have had an official licence approved. This must occur between certain set hours, though.
The Legal Gambling Age on Cruise Ships
If you do decide to partake in gambling onboard a cruise ship, then the age restrictions on this also depend on where the ship is registered. If the vessel is registered in a US territory, for example, then the gambling age on the ship would be 21, even if you are from or embarking from a country with a lower legal age.
Other nations have lower age limits when it comes to gambling, such as the United Kingdom. There, the age limit on gambling is only 18, so as long as you are on a UK registered ship and above this age, you can enjoy casino gaming after embarking. For example, a US citizen could gamble at the age of 18 on a UK registered ship in international waters.
It may still be the discretion of the cruise line to adjust the age limit itself, though. Despite being in UK waters where the age limit is 18 for example, the cruise liner may have its own rules that dictate you need to be at least 21. Or, maybe it will be the case that someone of age 18 needs to be accompanied by someone of at least 21 to participate in gambling and/or drinking alcohol, for example. A cruise liner should have clear information about its gambling age restrictions for you to see prior to embarking, though.
What About Gambling Taxes?
What about paying taxes on gambling wins when aboard a cruise ship? Well, this is a little more of a complicated scenario. You see, it really depends upon whether the amount you have won is considered worthy enough of being reported to the state by the ship’s casino operator(s).
It also depends upon if the casino operators are based within the borders of a country that usually taxes gamblers on their winnings. Using the United Kingdom as an example again for this, there has been no laws in place to tax players on their winnings since laws were changed back in 2001. Therefore, regardless of how much you win while in the waters of the UK, you can simply take all of your cash with you when you disembark (or spend it on board the ship, if you prefer).
Reverting back to the United States of America, the laws may be different for tax purposes there. If someone wins more than $1,200 from a single payout, then it may be the requirement of the operator to provide certain forms to the player. This will then work out the taxes necessary to pay on their large reward. However, the details of any necessary taxes should be made available by the cruise liner you are sailing on.
The UK also has tax treaties with many countries so if you are liable to pay tax in some instances you can claim that back.
Who Regulates the Casinos Found on Cruise Liners?
It is true to say that the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), as the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, regulates certain parts of gambling onboard ships. Members of the CLIA have adopted a policy that relates to all of the equipment purchased and installed on the vessels, and it is important that these all meet the regulatory standard of the Nevada Gaming Control Board or other licensed jurisdiction.
Despite the fact that the legislation of Nevada is mentioned there, it follows the regulatory standards used by control boards, licensed jurisdictions and established casinos based within New Jersey and England as well.
The current policy dictates that each line will provide a gaming guide, which sets out the rules of play for their respective casino(s). The rules of play will generally follow those that are established for casinos based in the aforementioned locations. In order to comply with CLIA’s policy, the house rules should also be made available in every casino, only adults should be allowed to play the slot machines or table games and each member should also post minimum and maximum betting limits within.
If you have a dispute to resolve, who do you contact for it? Well, you’re not likely to find a representative or an agent there to assist you in the middle of your cruise. Therefore, it is best to raise your issue with the onboard casino manager. Should this not be an effective way of resolving your complaint, then it is likely that you’ll be redirected to the director or the manager of the whole cruise liner.
It’s very rare that a complaint is not able to be resolved onboard the ship, but if this does occur, then there is a policy in place. Patrons are directed to the contact information for the main office or casino operator, which is a land-based establishment. Ultimately you can complain to whatever licensing agency controls gambling in the country from which the ship is registered. If it was a UK registered ship you could complain to the UKGC.
Remain Calm and Play Responsibly
If you’re intending to engage in casino gambling while onboard a cruise liner, then it is important to remember to utilise a responsible gambling mindset. This means that you should never bet with more than you can afford to lose, and don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Gambling should always be taken lightly and as a fun pastime, not something that should overwhelm you. Frustration can only lead to a negative outcome.
Back in 2010, a 51-year-old gambling cruise passenger aboard the SuperStar Aquarius lost HK$5 million (around £467,950 in today’s money) by playing baccarat. Unfortunately, he was so distraught by the outcome of that gambling session that he leapt to his death from the top floor of the liner. According to the report, the man gambled at the casino’s baccarat table until closing time at 8am on the Sunday morning. He then wandered around the deck for an hour before he was seen jumping overboard to his death.
This is why it is important to utilise your money effectively while aboard a cruise ship. Don’t go about placing huge bets and potentially losing massive amounts, as there is little that you can do about it. However, engaging in a bit of betting at your chosen cruise ship casino is a nice way of passing a little time and having fun. Just remember to think about the responsible gambling mindset when doing so.