Some­times it pays to play

Orlando Sentinel - - TRAVEL - By Rose­mary Mc­Clure

If you’re a gam­bler look­ing for a sure thing, join a cruise line player’s club. Not only will you re­ceive cruise­time perks, but you also may be in­vited to sail for free.

We’re not say­ing this is a fi­nan­cial plan that makes any sense; your odds of com­ing out ahead mon­e­tar­ily are dis­mal, just as they are in Las Ve­gas.

But if you en­joy gam­bling, think of it only as en­ter­tain­ment and limit your ex­pen­di­tures, you may come up aces in terms of fun.

“If you’re go­ing to gam­ble on a cruise, be sure to al­ways join the line’s gam­bling loy­alty pro­gram,” said Dori Saltz­man, se­nior editor at CruiseCritic.com.

“You’ll earn points both for the money you spend and for the amount of time you spend in the casino.

“Once you’ve reached enough points, you can earn perks like free-drink cards, cruise dis­counts and even free cruises.”

Most lines of­fer the pro­grams; you can sign up on board at the casino host’s desk.

The Car­ni­val Cruise Line pro­gram, for in­stance, is called Play­ers Club and is de­signed for pas­sen­gers 18 and older.

Mem­bers earn points while play­ing at ta­bles and slots; the more points you earn while play­ing, the more ben­e­fits you can ac­crue.

The pay­off can be in free drinks while you play (no, you don’t au­to­mat­i­cally get free drinks) and in­vi­ta­tions to sail on Car­ni­val Premier Cruises.

Nor­we­gian Cruise Line has sim­i­lar of­fers. Its pro­gram, Casi­nos at Sea, was up­dated re­cently to al­low mem­bers to ac­crue and share points on Ocea­nia Cruises and Re­gent Seven Seas Cruises.

The NCL pro­gram has a slid­ing scale of awards you can earn, in­clud­ing such perks as early board­ing and cruise cabin dis­counts.

As with all player pro­grams, you must be care­ful that you’re not spend­ing more for perks by earn­ing them with points than you would be if you paid cash out­right.

Here’s why Las Ve­gas’ perks seem more gen­er­ous by com­par­i­son: com­pe­ti­tion. Hun­dreds of casi­nos com­pete for your money there. If you don’t like the odds or the perks, you can go next door.

Ships, on the other hand, have a cap­tive au­di­ence.

Be­sides player pro­grams, cruise lines of­fer other en­tice­ments.

“If you are new to gam­bling, most cruise lines of­fer demon­stra­tions on how to play ta­ble games like poker or black­jack in the casino dur­ing the day,” said John Maguire, chief ex­ec­u­tive of CruiseDirect.com.

If your skills are at the op­po­site end of the player scale, you might want to get in­volved in some of the tour­na­ments that cruise lines host.

Car­ni­val and Nor­we­gian of­fer black­jack, slots and poker tour­na­ments that at­tract hun­dreds of gam­ing en­thu­si­asts.

Play­ers qual­ify in rounds on cruises through­out the year. The fi­nal com­pe­ti­tion takes place late in the year.

There are also theme cruises through­out the year for gam­blers. To find these, see The­meCruiseFin­der .com, and search for types of cruises, such as “poker.” Sev­eral are listed, in­clud­ing a World Poker Tour sail­ing Sept. 24 aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oa­sis of the Seas.

Three other poker cruises are sched­uled by Ante Up Mag­a­zine, in­clud­ing a Mi­ami-to-Mex­ico cruise on Dec. 3.

Whether you’re gam­bling on a theme cruise or you just strolled into the casino on a reg­u­lar cruise, “the odds of the game are the same as at land-based casi­nos,” Maguire said.

“How­ever, cruise lines do value their casino guests. If you are a fre­quent on­board gam­bler, cer­tain cruise lines will ac­tu­ally in­vite you to sail for free.

“These are nor­mally last­minute in­vi­ta­tions,” he added.

There are also spe­cial pro­mo­tions and VIP of­fers in the casi­nos for cruise line loy­alty mem­bers.

In the long run, you can’t beat the house, but you can have fun and if you’re lucky, pick up some perks.

COURTESY OF CAR­NI­VAL CRUISES

Mem­bers can get free drinks or even comped trips for some of the high rollers.

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