Casinos and boats go back a very long way. The paddle steamers that used to meander their way up the mighty Mississippi River were later used as entertainment venues and casinos, offering both slots and table games to who stepped aboard.
But while some of those paddle steamers are still being used as riverboat casinos to this day, when you think of gambling at seas you tend to think of the gargantuan cruise liners that take passengers on voyages all around the world. These liners boast some of the largest, most glamorous gaming floors in the world.
From intimate casinos on superyachts to gaming floors large enough to rival a mid-size Las Vegas casino, cruise ship casinos come in all shapes and sizes. Here are our four most favourite.
THE SUPERYACHT CASINO CRUISE
The Sunborn Superyacht Hotel and Casino is permanently docked in the Ocean Village Marina, Gibraltar. It boasts breath-taking views over the famous Rock, the frightening airport runway, and across the strait towards Morocco.
The casino can be accessed via a separate entrance at the back of the boat and boasts 58 state of the art slots machines, three American roulette tables, four card tables (including blackjack) and three live poker tables.
Minimum bets are £0.01 on slots machines, £1 on American roulette and £5 on blackjack, while maximum bets are £50, £100, and £500 respectively. A dedicated poker room is also available, with a regular tournament schedule.
Within the casino is a glitzy bar serving beer, wines, spirits, champagnes and a large selection of cocktails. There is also dedicated table-side service for those not wanting to break their lucky streak.
Guests staying on board can chose from a range of bedroom suites, with the 74m2 Penthouse Suite boasting a large private sundeck with stunning sea views. For the high-rolling gambler, there is no other experience like it.
THE HIGH STAKES CASINO CRUISE
Norwegian Escape is based in Miami, Florida, and takes 4,266 guests on exotic voyages to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. But if cruising through crystal clear waters and passed white sandy beaches isn’t enough to keep travellers entertained, there are a raft of entertainment options on board.
This includes a state-of-the-art casino with some 318 slots machines and 28 gaming tables offering blackjack, craps, let it ride, poker, pi-gow, baccarat and roulette. Buy-ins range from low to high to ensure there is something for everyone, from the novice to the high-roller.
But those looking for a true red carpet casino experience, the ship has an exclusive VIP room with three tables that can be interchanged to meet guest preferences and requirements. Limits can be requested above the $5,000 maximum on the casino floor, perfect for those wanting to bet big.
And what better way to unwind after a successful night at the gaming tables than by spending the following day soaking up the rays at the Vibe Beach Club, or spending your winnings on a gourmet dinner in one of the ship’s 15 restaurants.
THE SOPHISTICATED CASINO CRUISE
Cunard evokes memories of the golden era of cruising. Today, its flagship ocean liner, Queen Mary 2, takes passengers on transatlantic crossings between Southampton and New York with all the pomp and circumstance you would expect from such a prestigious name.
Luxury is in the details, from the stunning craftsmanship found in the liner’s suites and staterooms, to its library – the largest at sea with more than 8,000 books. This extends to the boat’s exquisite Empire Casino, which departs from the glitz and glamour found in other casinos in favour of a more sophisticated environment.
On offer are nine bespoke gaming tables – including roulette, blackjack, three card poker, heads up and Texas hold'em – as well as 99 slots machines. Limits for the tables range from $3 to a maximum of $500, while the slots machines range from $0.05 to $5 per spin.
For first time gamblers or those whose blackjack skills are a little rusty, daily lessons are held in the casino where the liner’s highly-trained croupiers talk guests through the rules of each game, how they are played, and, if they are lucky, how to gain an edge over the house.
While the dress code for the Empire Casino is smart-casual, it is the perfect opportunity to don your tuxedo or dinner dress, order a stiff drink at the bar, and go all in on black while imagining you are back in the early 1900s and a pioneering passenger setting sail to a distant shore on one of Queen Mary 2’s forebearers.
THE LAS VEGAS CASINO CRUISE
If might is right, then Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas ticks all the boxes. It is the second largest ship in the world at 362m long and weighing in excess of 225,000 tonnes. She can carry up to 5,400 passengers and cost an impressive USD$1.2bn to build.
The size matters approach is also to be found in its on-board casino, Casino Royale. The gaming floor is a whopping 18,000 square feet, and is packed with more than 500 slots machines – including player favourites Wheel of Fortune and Triple Diamond – and 27 table games including roulette, Caribbean stud poker, blackjack, craps and video poker.
Guests receive a true Las Vegas casino experience, from the glamorous décor right down to the cocktail service – waiters and waitresses come to players while spinning the reels or winning a hand of blackjack so as not to interrupt their gameplay. The space has been designed with both experienced and newbie gamblers in mind.
The Vegas experience doesn’t just stop there, however; Allure of the Seas host several Broadway shows such as CATS, Mamma Mia! And We Will Rock You, as well as an Aquatheater, where water meets drama. Alternatively, you could round off a good night at the casino with a drink in one of the ship’s many bars.