Myths vs. Reality

Do Cruise Ship Casinos Pay Less Than Land-Based Ones?

Payback Percentage screen
Written by Joshua

There are many players who believe that cruise ships have lower paybacks than casinos on land. Sometimes, you gotta trust your gut.

STATUS: All evidence available points to this.

First off, let’s remind ourselves that cruise ships tend to buy the same games and machines that other casinos do – manufacturers make a game that can work in a variety of jurisdictions, with the same pay choices, for multiple markets, which keeps development costs down.

From there, the casinos can decide which payback percentage they wish to use, based on their overall goals for their casino floor, since they do differ a bit from game to game. But what do ships choose?

We can start with the screen included at the top of this post. This was taken on a cruise ship of a penny machine. Under Game Configuration, you can see “Theoretical RTP (return to player) %” which is the expected long term payback, and it was set to 85.06%, which is a few percentage points lower than most land-based casinos, based on the public reporting.

Another hint is to look at the Video Poker pay tables. Kevin Sweet, of Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, says on a Vegas Fanatics post there’s a pretty easy way to examine the goals of a casino’s slot floor:

Most of you know I’m a gambler myself, so I’m just as in tune with how a floor feels as you guys are. I basically look at a casino’s video poker paybacks to determine the type of floor the rest of the games are probably set at. Is the $1.00 and $5.00 poker set fairly, if so, I hope the rest of the floor is too.

Kevin Sweet, of Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, posting at Vegas Fanatics

Video Poker on cruises is traditionally set with very low payout scenarios compared to land-based casinos, and yet still only earn half the points vs. slots on cruise lines like Royal Caribbean. So you can expect the rest of the floor is probably set lower too.

As such, the general belief looks to be true; cruise ship casinos are casinos with a very captive audience and no competition nearby or available, so they have the ability to get away with a lower payback. Casinos are also generally only turned on international waters, outside the rule of law of minimums set by a state, for instance.

But, it’s helpful to remember there’s still a lower limit on the machines themselves, so they won’t be set to the point of impossibility – the game designers at the various slot manufacturers purposely create a handful of settings they believe the game will be enjoyable and playable at. The cruise ships likely just check off the lowest box, presuming it fits their plan.

About the author


My name is Joshua, and I’m a slot enthusiast who works in tech as a marketer by day, and dabbles in casinos periodically during off-times. Know Your Slots will reflect my interests in understanding the various ways you can play slots, travel, casino promotions and how you can get the most out of your casino visits.


    • Great question! As a general rule, no. Once in awhile someone will manage to get a shot like this when a machine is being worked on or something like that. I’ve had players tell me about tricks they could play on older machines to force a slot tech to come over and fix it so they could see the settings. And then there’s at least one person on Facebook offering people keys (which is a very, very bad idea) so they can make the machine enter that screen. But no, for the most part, we can’t see this information, so all we get are these glimpses when the opportunity occurs.

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