Western Australia’s ban on cruise ship casinos has been lifted last month by the government in an effort to make the region a more attractive destination for cruise companies. Cruise ships have become increasingly popular in Western Australia, with the industry already predicted to be pumping $275 million into the state’s economy, with a significant proportion coming from gross gambling revenue.
However, the long standing ban has meant that cruise companies have been forced to close their casinos when they begin to reach the west coast of Australia, preventing holidaymakers from playing casino games onboard.
Tourism Minister Colin Barnett announced the changes at the 2016 WA Tourism Conference last month. According to him cruise ships are crucial to growing the State’s tourism industry. The number of cruise ships coming to Fremantle has more than tripled since 2012-13 when 17 ships brought 49,000 passengers to the port city. In 2015-16, 58 ships berthed at Fremantle with 152,000 passengers. Lifting these casino restrictions, allowing players to enjoy games such as roulette while on board, will make the state more attractive as a destination for cruise companies, which generate more than A$275 million for the local economy. The agreement was amended in 2011 in order to allow the ships to operate casinos within 12 nautical miles offshore.
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 2017, 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 by saying that 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. He also expressed that if people go on a cruise, they expect there to be a casino, they expect it to be open.
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 New Set of Rules
Under the new set of rules casinos will not have to shut when approaching Western Australian waters and only have to shut when 12 nautical miles away from the port they are anchoring, rather than from any point of the coastline. What is more, the cruise need to be a deep-water one with minimum capacity of 100 passengers on board of the ship, with the latter transiting through the ports of the state of Western Australia from and to both interstate or overseas locations.
The casinos will remain shut when the ships are docked and gambling will remain a supplementary service, as oppose to cruise companies making it their sole purpose however. The government of Western Australia has also announced that the ports in Fremantle and Geraldton will also be upgraded as a result of the new demand for cruise ship tourism and as further efforts to boost the tourism industry in the region.
According to local media, such an expansion has long been needed, as the State has been looking to attract new investors, and the Government has expressed its hopes for the territory to increase its popularity among cruise companies. If Western Australia becomes more popular among cruise operators, the State’s ports will probably become regular stops in these companies’ planned routes and journeys, which can finally result in the desired and long-expected boom in the tourism sector. The previous restrictions imposed on casino gaming in the State have been having negative impact on the tourism sector, which is one of the main reasons why gambling expansion was needed.
What is more, gaming operations will be available only as a supplementary service, which basically means that the so-called floating casinos, which only purpose is providing gambling services to passengers, remain banned.
The Racing and Gaming Minister Terry Waldron explained that the previous Casino Agreement required from cruise ships to close their casino, if any, as soon as they entered Western Australian waters. Mr. Waldron further said that the restrictions were aimed at stopping cruise ships which only aim was to avoid the State’s regulations on gaming machines by offering gaming services for a few days. In an interview for a local media, the Tourism, Racing and Gaming Minister of Western Australia, revealed that the Government was seeking the cruise industry’s growth by taking the necessary measures in terms of infrastructure and regulatory matters. According to him, cruise shipping plays an important role in the local tourism industry, as it generates millions of dollars to the State’s economy every year, not to mention the new jobs being created in the sector.
Earlier the state government had 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.