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They may be smaller than the ones in Las Vegas, but cruise ship casinos mirror what’s found on land in terms of rules and the training required for dealers. Cruise lines make sure they’re offering the latest and most popular slots and table games, including penny video slots and the ever popular blackjack. Here’s what you need to know to improve your odds, at least of having fun:

  • 1. Casinos close while in port.

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    If you plan to spend a lot of time in the ship’s casino, choose an itinerary with a lot of sea days. With a few exceptions — including overnight in Bermuda and Nassau ports — cruise ship casinos are required to remain closed when the ship is in port so as not to compete with local gambling or entertainment businesses. In Bermuda, casinos on ships can operate from 9 pm to 5 am, and in Nassau, from 7 pm to 3 am.

  • 2. Ship casinos are open in international waters.

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    Casinos are typically only open 3 to 12 nautical miles from the coast. However, in the case of Alaska, cruise ship casinos are permitted to open 3 miles after departing from one Alaska port until 3 miles before arriving in the next Alaska port, regardless of proximity to land. That’s good for gamblers, as cruises in southeast Alaska tend to hug the coastline.

  • 3. Smoking is part of the game.

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    Though there are fewer places to smoke on cruise ships than ever before, casinos are one of the last holdouts. Most cruise ship casinos, with the exception of the luxury lines, have designated smoking areas for cigarette smokers; however, cigar lovers are rarely permitted to light up.

  • 4. Card sharks are a rare species at sea.

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    Professional gamblers tend to focus their energies on the land-based casinos that are open around the clock, without the distractions of a cruise — from buffets to deck parties and those pesky ports of call. Plus, according to Paul Jarvis, vice president of casino operations for Carnival Corp., card sharks seek anonymity, and passengers need to provide the cruise line with their passport details before boarding.

  • 5. Gambling theme cruises offer real competition for top players.

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    If you really want to double down on your gaming ops at sea, some cruise lines — including Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line — host blackjack, slots, and poker tournaments that attract hundreds of gaming enthusiasts. Qualifying rounds are held on cruises throughout the year, with the final competition taking place toward the end of the year.

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