The first question that enters most people’s mind as they sit at a slot machine or a table game at a new casino is “is the casino fair and playing a legitimate game?” When we are at a land based casino the answer is a fairly certain yes. In the United States, states with casinos have a government agency monitoring them. Las Vegas was the first place in the United States to open legal casinos and organized crime got their foot in the door early. A number of laws and vigorous enforcement forced out the criminal elements and established the Nevada Gaming Commission and State Gaming Control Board. This board, and the laws behind it, became the model other states followed to establish their own control boards. They set rules that casinos must follow and payback percentages. They control the software that determines the percentage of payouts and seal the mechanical devices.
In other countries around the world the same situation exists but when we enter a cruise ship laws are applied in a different manner. The ship is governed by international maritime laws and the laws of the country it is registered (also called flagged) in. Frequently the flagged country does not have gaming laws that apply to the ship.
In 1997, the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) adapted a policy concerning the operations of casinos aboard cruise ships. At that time there were 17 members who comprised the majority of commercial cruise ships. The policy, which is self policing, stated that any equipment used in on-board casinos should meet the standards of the Nevada Gaming Commission and State Gaming Control Board. The policy has a requirement to post the rules of each game as well as providing printed guides. These rules of play shall generally follow those established for casinos in Nevada, New Jersey, or England. Some cruise lines have modified whose rules they follow if they are different parts of the world. The rules of Macao are sometimes used for cruises with mostly Chinese passengers and use Australian rules for cruises originating in that country. In 2006, the ICCL merged with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). The ICCL rules were adopted by CLIA and are still in effect. Most cruise lines reference the policy on their websites and in the casinos.
Since it is a self policing policy the questions remains, is it fair? For most casino goers the answer is yes. Unlike land based casinos, the cruise casino can select which rules they would like to use. So generally they have rules that favor them. In the overall scope, most players do not know the difference and it does not matter to them. It also only shifts the houses advantage by one or two percent.
Until just a few years ago, cruise lines looked at casinos as an additional entertainment option. When compared to land based casinos, the cruise casinos had lower minimum bets and more tables. There were often gaming lessons that would teach rules and give basic tips. Tournaments were common and geared so beginners had a chance to win. The casinos still offer that but have started to offer some of the perks of land based casinos. You can place your passenger card into a slot machine reader just like a casino’s frequent player card. The computer system will award you points for playing and the points can be redeemed for discounts or gifts at the end of the cruise. Many lines have targeted getting the high rollers to come abroad. They offer some the same perks as land based casinos; special tournaments that act as qualifiers to invited events, upgraded or free staterooms, even free drinks.
The self policing policies seem to be working. Looking at social media sites and targeted message boards you seldom see negative comments about cruise casinos. When one does pop up claiming the slot machines are rigged or games are fixed, more readers give examples that they are not. The increasing numbers of repeat high rollers show that the cruise casinos are at least on par with land casinos as far as being legitimate and fair.