WA authorises casino gambling on cruise ships

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
WA authorises casino gambling on cruise ships

As part of a package of economic initiatives designed to increase tourism throughout Western Australia, the state government has authorized cruise ships to offer casino gambling.

Although full-fledged ‘casino cruises’  – in which the primary source of onboard entertainment is gambling – will still be banned, WA will now permit games like blackjack, baccarat, and roulette as ‘ancillary services’.

According to WA Premier and Tourism Minister Colin Barnett, who assumed his current post in April, clarified the state government’s reasoning for reversing the longstanding prohibition on cruise ship gambling in an interview with Business News Western Australia:

“The number of cruise ships coming to Fremantle has more than tripled, since 2012-13, when 17 chips brought 49,000 passengers to the port city. In 2015-26, 58 ships berthed at Fremantle with 152,000 passengers,” he said.

“Lifting these gaming restrictions will make the state more attractive as a destination for cruise companies, which generate more than $275 million for the local economy.”

Colin Holt, WA gaming minister, clarified the legislative process behind lifting the ban, stating that an existing provision mandating that gambling occur only on ‘deepwater cruises’ would remain in effect, combined with a new provision requiring casino gambling to act as an ancillary service only.

As Barnett explained, the deepwater provision limits casino gambling to cruise ships travelling within 12 nautical miles of the coastline, along with vessels travelling between the state’s system of ports.

Casino gambling on a cruise ship is typically offered in a special room or area onboard, with trained dealers operating genuine table games while passengers wager real money on games of chance and skill. Many cruise lines also promote poker-based voyages, with players gathering nightly for tournaments and cash games, while participating in instructional courses and lessons during the day.

In order to effect the recent changes to WA law, the state government collaborated with James Packer and his Crown casino empire, as Crown owns the exclusive rights to operate gambling enterprises within 200 miles of Perth.

In April, when Barnett announced his ambitious plan to modernize WA’s casino cruise laws, Crown’s chief executive of Australian resorts Barry Felstead expressed his support.

“Crown has always been a big supporter of anything that’s good for tourism in WA.”

At that time, Barnett clarified the intent of new laws, while making mention of the fact that WA remained the only state in Australia with similar restrictions on the books:

“What we wouldn’t allow was a sham operation, a ship that just goes out to the back of Rottnest, puts an anchor down and has a casino running. It would have to be a genuine cruise, where the casino is just a regular part of the entertainment offering.

“I think if people go on a cruise, they expect there to be a casino, they expect it to be open, and why not?”

The rollback on cruise ship gambling restrictions was made as part of WA’s wider effort to boost tourism throughout the state. Another law forbidding tourism-based business from serving alcohol to visitor on tours without a license was also rescinded.

Barnett pointed to the potential loss in revenue WA has suffered by disallowing tour companies from serving alcohol.

“This has placed restrictions on tourism operators from providing customers with a beer or wine while watching the sun set, or sitting around a campfire at the end of an adventure tour.”

The state government also signed a $7.2 million deal with Qantas Airways, as the airline partnered with Tourism WA to promote the area’s destinations to interstate and international travelers.

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