Ever since the days of riverboats, it seems that gambling as you travel on the water is an age-old tradition.  Before trains, cars and airplanes made long distance travel a breeze, American history is full of stories of the riverboat gambler, chugging upstream with cards in his hand, and a smile on his face.  In fact, poker was invented on the Mississippi River.

Today, gambling and the cruise industry seem to go hand in hand.  Almost every cruise ship features a casino, and the newer ships are building them bigger and better.

It used to be that cruise ships were the only place to find casino gambling in the United States, outside of Las Vegas or Atlantic City.  With prohibitions in place against gambling, cruise ships could easily just travel to international waters, about three miles offshore, where gambling laws didn’t apply.

Gaming on Your Vacation Getaway

These days, cruise lines have a little more competition for your gambling dollar.  With more states legalizing riverboat gambling cruises, and casinos opening across the country, cruise lines are putting their money into creating more elaborate onboard gaming experiences.

And they’re not treating their casinos as just another diversion for passengers.  Bigger cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival are reaching out to high rollers, rating players, opening tables with higher minimums and higher limits, even offering free drinks.

Crystal Cruises’ was the first to partner with a major casino, in its “Caesar’s at Sea”.  It’s basically an ocean version of the famous Las Vegas casino, featuring blackjack tables, baccarat, roulette wheels, craps tables and more than 80 slot machines.

A number of cruise lines, including Holland America, Princess and Cunard, offer membership in the Ocean Players Club, where you can receive benefits and special deals.  The club offers everything from gaming lessons, to established credit lines and betting limits for high rollers.  You can also earn points towards free gifts, or even cash back rebates on future cruises.


Some cruise lines organize tournaments with poker or blackjack rooms set up on board, all scheduled around shore excursions so you won’t fight with your spouse over timing concerns.  And there can be big money at stake.  Royal Caribbean’s annual Poker Tournament has an estimated pot of $100,000 with only a $1,000 buy in.

If you’re no high roller, but you are interested in learning how to play, that’s no problem!  One of the best parts about cruise ship casinos is that the staff can be more patient and willing to teach you the rules of the game than they are in Las Vegas.  Most cruise lines even offer lessons in poker or blackjack during the first days of your trip, since staff recognize that most passengers don’t come on board to hit it big, but are more than willing to try their hand at something new and entertaining.

So, whether you’re a gambler, or you get your kicks playing the slots, or even if you want to try your hand at baccarat just once, there is plenty of adventure waiting for you the next time you set sail on a cruise vacation.  And who knows! Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot!

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