The Guardian: Explainer – Onboard gambling: what law applies in a cruise ship casino miles out to sea?

Cruise lines boast ‘responsible gaming conduct’ policies but in international waters, away from the laws of the land, some say it’s a case of ‘anything goes’

Cruise ships have long been synonymous with carefree, even rules-free, breaks from life on land. Onboard water parks, endless buffets, world-class performers and late-night bars have become a bare minimum on many major cruise liners.

But as on land, things can go terribly wrong. And when they do, the question of what rules apply onboard a ship is suddenly dragged into the light.

At the beginning of May, cruise passenger Shane Dixon fell to his death from the P&O Pacific Adventure. The 50-year-old father of three’s body was found 10 nautical miles off Sydney Heads.

According to reports in the Daily Mail, Dixon’s brother Scott said Shane had been gambling in the ship’s casino. P&O declined to comment on the circumstances of Dixon’s death, and there is no suggestion P&O or the ship’s crew failed to observe the law or were negligent in relation to it.

But what is the status of gambling at sea?

What kind of gambling do cruises offer?

Casinos – complete with gaming tables and poker machines – are common on large, mainstream cruise ships and some smaller luxury cruises. Norwegian Cruise Lines ships feature a total of 4,800 slot machines, while Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas has a casino of more than 1,600m2.

The popularity of onboard casinos is in part down to their links with travellers’ loyalty accounts, offering points that can be used to pay for food, drinks and future cruises.

On Tuesday it was announced that P&O Cruises would be shut down in early 2025 and two of its three ships integrated into its sister line Carnival.

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