In the context of a cruise, gambling and gaming can add value to the luxurious and fun atmosphere customers expect from their vacation. Through slot machines and table games, gaming offers cruise companies the chance to broaden its entertainment services. But when gaming tastes change so quickly, how can cruise lines manage to stay current?

CRUISE WITH GAMES

Tom Andrews has been manager of casino operations for Celebrity Cruises for 11 years and takes pride in how the line has met growing gaming needs. “We try to evolve with the times and are probably six months to a year behind land-based casinos,” he says, “but our main business is cruising, not gaming, so it really is an entertainment area, as opposed to being the main attraction.”

“We are still basically a cruise line and vacation destination first and a gambling destination second.”

The growing popularity and availability of gaming, from online sites to televised tournaments, has helped create greater public acceptance.

“The traditional cruiser,” Andrews says, “is on vacation, but over the time I have been here the acceptance of casinos as entertainment and the willingness of the cruise lines to promote this aspect has grown. It is not considered a vice any more. I think this is because of the expansion of casinos nationwide. You can even see it on TV with the World Poker Tour, even though it is just poker and not really what we call Class 3 Gaming, which is more blackjack, roulette and slot machines, and basically shows it can be fun.”

Bob Bender, marketing manager for Carnival Corporation’s casino division, also feels that passengers think of casinos as an entertainment factor. “We are still basically a cruise line and vacation destination first and a gambling destination second,” he says. “It is just a part of the whole entity. There is so much to do, and the casino is just part of that experience.”

GAMING CLUBS AT SEA Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Both Carnival and Celebrity offer their passengers special clubs and reward programmes. “Celebrity’s Blue Chip Club, which was created almost three years ago, is basically a reward programme, where gamers are rewarded, like any credit card club,” says Andrews.

“Our business tends to reflect what is the most popular and most in-demand by our guests, such as poker.”

“Initially it was invitation-only for higher-end casino players. It creates opportunities for them to come back and sail with us again because there is a segment of the market that are both gamers and cruisers, and that is a segment we’re after. This year, we have three invitation-only cruises, where we invite guests to come on for tournaments.

“We started out with 200 members and are now trying to hit 3,000. These are very high-end players who are able to travel with us for events two, three, four times a year. The last group we had really enjoyed each other’s company and want to come back again, have fun and do what they like to do. It’s exciting that we are creating our own little niche,” he says.

Andrews explains that while Celebrity is responsible for its own Blue Chip Club, it also has several high-end marketing relationships: “We have large corporate deals and a formalised working relationship with Harrah’s Entertainment Group, a large gaming company. There are also two or three large nationwide promotions a year that run their own independent marketing events which can be associated with cruises, such as offering a free cruise or group cruises.”

Carnival’s Ocean Players Club has also become very popular. “Our business tends to reflect what is the most popular and most in-demand by our guests, such as poker,” Bender says. “We’re introducing new PokerPro automated poker tables and will be doing a lot more with poker tournaments over the next year or two. Once a new game comes along, whether a table game or a machine, and it has proven itself in the marketplace, and become familiar and popular with the public at large, then we will try to include it, especially on our bigger and newer ships.”

Carnival also has tie-ins with some land-based casinos. “They are mostly in North America,” says Bender, “but we really don’t have a direct link to any of them.”

CASINO SECURITY

There’s also no worry about an Ocean’s 11-style heist. “We’re pretty insulated,” explains Andrews. “The great thing about ships is that everyone has to be registered and have a passport, so from a cheating point of view, no one wants to commit a criminal act and not be able to get away.”

“Some machines can cost as much as a new car so it can be difficult to stay current with the industry.”

Bender believes that there will always be some security concerns. “We have seen some instances of credit card fraud but something we already do, and expect to see more of in the future, is people using their room card instead of cash in the casino,” he says. “They can charge everything to it, including the casinos.”

“And as far as traditional card counting and cheating goes” he adds, “we’re fortunate that we are a vacation and people have to take a week out and pay before they can even go into a casino, so unlike a land-based casino, where someone can just walk in off the street and start playing, it is not so easy with a cruise. And of course, with passports, it is hard to hide your identity. So it protects us very well and we have very few incidents.”

GAMING GUIDELINES

Both Carnival and Celebrity are members of the CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) and abide by its gaming and gambling rules. “CLIA has set up guidelines for gaming which we follow, as all lines do,” says Bender. “They are based upon Nevada Gaming and New Jersey Gaming commissions as well as those of the British, Australian, South Africa and Bahamian commissions, which are all very highly controlled and very organised gaming bodies.”

“Most countries, including the US, do not allow ships to open casinos,” Bender adds, “unless they pass three miles offshore, reaching international waters. Some prefer six or nine miles. If you sail out of Miami for instance, the casinos won’t open until 30 mins after you have left the port.”

CHALLENGES AND TRENDS

According to Andrews, staying current is the biggest challenge. “We are somewhat insulated from the industry, such as with the growth of computer gaming, as it outstrips our ability to keep up with the latest equipment,” he says.

“While blackjack is still the preferred tableside game, there is also a big trend towards electronic table games, without dealers. Some machines can cost as much as a new car so it can be difficult to stay current with the industry. We don’t have that in our budget. Those products are priced for land-based casinos.”

“There is a big trend towards electronic table games.”

New technology has also been tailored for Carnival cruise passengers. “On any Carnival ship,” Bender says, “there are 200 to 250 slot machines with slot-tracking systems, whereby guests can use their room cards in the slot machine which tracks their winnings and gives them points they can exchange for awards and rewards. We mirror the industry as a whole and slots are a big percentage of our revenue.”

Bender says that with so many Carnival ships dispersed worldwide, it creates specific logistical problems. “There is limited space, so we cannot always provide a large enough entertainment area, whether it is a show lounge or a casino,” he says.

As the demand and expectation for gaming entertainment increases, cruise lines are increasingly traversing the physical limitations of offshore gaming while maximising on the lucrative opportunities such entertainments can offer.

By achieving the right balance, cruise lines could walk away big winners.