Gamblers who like the taste of salty sea air and the sound of ocean waves crashing beneath their feet can enjoy one-day casino cruises in several areas of the United States, including Florida. At port, gambling may still be against the law, but once a cruise ship hits international waters, gambling becomes legal for all passengers age 21 and over. While on a gambling day trip at sea, the casino amenities mirror that of a brick and mortar casino: slot machines, table games, cold drinks, buffets, entertainment. Florida, with its lengthy coast line, is a prime location for casino ships to set up shop at its various breathtaking ports. The casino ship industry in Florida, however, is not exactly flourishing. In fact, it has seen enough ups and downs to become seasick.
Unfortunately for casino cruise fans, Florida has seen many casino boat closures in the past decade. As of 2004, the Florida Day Cruise Association reported that there were 17 casino boats sailing in the state. In 2008, that number dwindled down to 14. Today, there are even fewer gambling boats available in Florida. The Big M and Victory Casino Cruises are two of Florida's main sailing options.
The Big M
The Big M is a casino cruiser that sails out of Moss Marine in Ft. Myers Beach, Fla. The ship offers Vegas-style casino action including multiple-line slots and traditional table games. For six hours, guests can wander the decks trying their luck. When they get hungry, or when money runs out, they can enjoy fine buffet food and entertainment.
The ship's prices are quite reasonable. It costs just $10 to board the Big M. Buffet meals raise the price up to $20-$30, depending on which day of the week it is. The Big M also operates a successful gambling cruise ship out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The Victory Casino cruises out of Port Canaveral, Fla., seven days per week. The ship offers four decks with over 600 slot machines, blackjack tables with $5 and $10 minimums, sports betting at a full bar with specialty drinks, and other casino standards like roulette, craps, and poker.
When not gambling, guests can savor different international dishes at a world buffet and partake of drinks and dancing at Big Norm's Club V. Those who enjoy sipping cocktails by the sea can relax with a frosty drink at the Coral Side Tiki Bar. Like the Big M, the basic boarding price for the cruise is $10. Also like the Big M, costs rise a bit for guests who plan to partake of a meal.
Sunken Florida Gambling Ship: The Black Diamond
Florida witnessed the recent rise and fall of a new casino ship in Palm Beach called the "Black Diamond." In November 2012, the Black Diamond opened its doors to the public. The ship, operated out of Port Palm Beach, offered nightly gambling cruises and also morning cruises Wednesday through Sunday. Passengers enjoyed bingo, sports betting, a floor of 250 slot machines, and table games like baccarat, blackjack, and roulette. Evening cruises featured a sit-down dinner and live piano entertainment.
Unfortunately for Black Diamond customers, the ship closed down in February 2013 without fulfilling all of its reservations. Unfortunately for the 100 people employed by the cruise line, their employer abruptly cut them off that same month, only three months after the grand opening. As of February 19, 2013, employees had not been paid and customers with reservations had not been refunded.
Employees of the gambling ship found out about the cessation of their employment in an unfortunate way. CEO Steven Craig claimed he was going to tell them about the boat's closure, but dragged his feet so long that an on-site reporting news channel, WPTV News 5 out of Palm Beach, broke the news to the employees instead. According to reporters, employees who had shown up for work began to cry as they realized that not only was their place of employment closing, but also that their paychecks were nowhere to be found.
Craig explained to News 5 reporters that the ship was closing for a while, and if it re-opened in the future, he would call some of the employees back. This revelation caused quite an angry stir amongst Palm Beach community members.
One commenter indicated that she would have loved to take a day cruise on the ship, but had no idea it was even there. Speculations as to what caused the business's early and abrupt demise included the fact that CEO Craig did very little advertising. Many community members did not even know the service existed.
Good News: A New Port of Palm Beach Casino Cruise Line
Effective May 1st, 2013, Island Breeze International will take over the Black Diamond. Island Breeze is an owner and operator of entertainment cruise ships whose goal is to lead the cruise ship entertainment industry. The company plans to make renovations to the boat and open its doors to the public for day cruises starting in August, 2013. Unlike the Black Diamond, the Island Breeze company plans to advertise heavily. They have signed a 10-year lease with the port.
Other Sunken Ships
The Black Diamond is not the only ship to sink before its time. The once-popular SunCruz at Hollywood docked for good in 2005. A Florida gambling ship called the "Big Easy," once operated out of the port of St. Petersburg, closed in late 2009. The Discovery Cruise line, which once provided day gambling trips to the Bahamas, closed in 2011.
The gambling cruise ship industry in Florida is not a stable one. With the recent closure of Internet cafes and senior arcades in Florida (read here), citizens looking for places to gamble still have one sure bet: the 137 brick and mortar casinos in the state, most of which are located on Florida's vast and beautiful coast line.