Question of the Day April 22, 2014
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Q:I know that in Nevada and presume that in other states, slot machines are regulated to minimum payouts over time. Are casinos on cruise lines under any regulation? And what about those that are associated with Nevada gaming conglomerates? I believe that Caesars Entertainment is associated with a cruise line. Do they "self-impose" betters odds for casino players on those cruise lines that have a land-based connection?
A:Caesars Entertainment spokesman Gary Thompson responds, "We have a marketing partnership with Norwegian Cruise Lines, but we don’t manage any cruise line casinos." The bigger American firms generally avoid the "cruises to nowhere" business, too, preferring their casinos (and gamblers) to stay in one place.
U.S. rules against casino gambling aboard ships used to be so stringent that only three vessels offered it. The 1991 Cruise Ship Competitiveness Act put the U.S. industry back on a level playing field with other countries.
Cruise-ship casinos operate in international waters – 24 miles offshore -- thereby freeing them from any jurisdictional oversight. As a consequence, there is a sub-industry of "cruises to nowhere." These vessels put out to sea and, once international waters have been reached, let the games begin. After several hours of play, they put back to the port of departure.
"[T]here is no independent governmental regulation of the type provided in Las Vegas by the Nevada Gaming Commission and State Gaming Control Board, or in Atlantic City by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission," reports Cruise-Casinos.com. "But in the absence of government regulators, the cruise ship casinos operate under a vague, not exactly confidence-inspiring, set of guidelines published in 1999 by an organization called the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL), whose members include most of the cruise lines covered by this site. The ICCL guidelines address the equipment, conduct of games, internal controls, and customer service for casinos on cruise ships."
(Those rules used to be available online but we found the ICCL Web site to be defunct, apparently superseded by the Cruise Lines International Association.)
Among the ICCL requirements is that cruise-ship casino equipment meet the regulatory standards of the Nevada Gaming Control Board or other comparable regulatory body as regards pay tables (some of which are quite favorable to the casino, depending on the state). However, there aren’t any agents aboard ship to, say, oversee a casino employee opening a slot machine and changing the EPROM chips that govern payouts (not that we've heard of any such instance, but in less-regulated times, it was a scam that's been known to take place in Nevada and other land-based gaming jurisdictions - see "Question of the Day" 11/14/13 and 12/2/13 in the QoD Archives).
"We do not publish this information," says Holland America’s international public relations manager, Jerrold Golden, of pay tables. "However, payback percentages on all slot machines may vary depending on the game type and denomination," she says. "We purchase all our slot machines from the major U.S. manufacturers and they are shipped to us with exactly the same game options as they would be if they were being delivered to a land-based U.S. casino."
ICCL rules also require that rules of play "generally follow those established for casinos in Nevada, New Jersey, or England" and the casino is inspected "by each member of the [shipping] line’s internal audit department on a regular basis, not to exceed 12 months." That’s pretty lax by American standards. Cruise-Casinos.com adds that "some cruise-line rules improve the casino’s odds at blackjack and craps over what you would find in Vegas."
The bottom line is that you’re likelier to find a better game at a land-based casino than on a cruise ship (as you can find alluded to at times in video poker expert and occasional comp-cruiser Bob Dancer's regular weekly column on this site).
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