Will Bermuda Allow Cruise Ships to Leave Casinos Open in Port?

January 12, 2012
(3:45 p.m. EST) -- With cruise calls down significantly in 2012, Bermuda tourism officials are putting everything on the table to entice ships back.

That includes allowing onboard casinos to stay open while ships are in port.

According to Bermuda's Royal Gazette Online, the issue surfaced following Transport Minister Derrick Burgess's public comments that, during recent meetings in Miami, cruise line executives cited onboard revenue as a reason for the exodus.

In general, lines that visit Bermuda visit only Bermuda, often settling in for three or four consecutive days. Onboard casinos and shops must remain closed while ships are in port, and "this has a huge effect on onboard revenue," said Burgess.

In November, MP Mark Pettingill told the Bermuda Sun that the dearth in gaming options was a "major factor that would have contributed to the loss of Carnival Pride in 2012 and Veendam in 2013."

Burgess proposed that allowing the cruise ship casinos to stay open between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. might persuade some ships to come a day earlier or leave a day later. He suggested that the late-night hours would have less of an impact on cruisers' onshore spending habits, reported the Gazette. A similar plan to Burgess's was rejected by MPs in July 2009, when they voted down a cruise ship gaming bill, 18 to 11.

The onboard vs. onshore casino rules may be at the crux of the debate -- i.e. Bermuda may want more of a cut of the action. "Allowing cruise ships to open casinos while docked in Bermuda may not be supported by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, unless gaming is allowed onshore as well," reported a second Gazette story that raised doubts about a cruise ship-only casino proposal. Bermuda has restrictive gaming laws, which include a prohibition against casinos. "The Chamber is consulting its members by way of an online survey, and so far, the majority of its main contacts are saying that they prefer opening up the whole island to gaming."

But would new rules actually convince cruise lines to return? "[New gaming rules] would certainly be a benefit, but it wouldn't be a deciding factor," said MSC USA's President and CEO Rick Sasso in an interview with Cruise Critic. "We put all of that in our models factoring the financial feasibility of a port visit. [A new casino policy] would certainly be better than not, but it's not a reason to change your itinerary planning and include Bermuda."

"The casino is considered by many guests to be another entertainment option and it is sometimes a guest 'dissatisfier' when we can't open the casino at night (as we typically do on cruises to multiple destinations)," said Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman AnneMarie Mathews in an e-mail. "We feel that a more liberal casino policy in Bermuda would also enhance the island's appeal to more cruisers and thus increase demand for Bermuda cruises."

"We currently have our newest ship, Norwegian Breakaway, scheduled to call in Bermuda for her first summer season in 2013. We have not yet announced subsequent plans for the ship, but would be encouraged by Bermuda's decision to allow casinos to stay open while in port," she added.

It's almost unheard of for ports to allow onboard casinos to stay open while ships are docked, but Bermuda would not be alone if it decided to relax its onboard gaming policies. Mathews tells Cruise Critic that Nassau allows lines to open their casinos in port by agreement. Cruise Critic left a phone message with Nassau's Tourist Board requesting additional info.

--by Dan Askin, News Editor