Gambling was to have been banned on all cruise ships off Alaska this year, but last week a last-minute bill was passed by both of the state’s legislative houses that would allow the floating casinos to continue operating while in coastal waters.
At press time Wednesday the bill was headed for the governor’s office. The bill will go into effect immediately if Gov. Walter J. Hickel signs it within 20 days of receiving it.
Alaska has not allowed gambling since 1978, but some foreign-flagged ships (which include most cruise ships) have been ignoring the ban. The U.S. Attorney last summer ordered cruise ships to close casinos while in Alaskan waters.
Although the new legislation would allow shipboard gambling, it imposes several restrictions. Casinos could be open on those ships with at least 300 berths, and those that are primarily involved in sightseeing and provide gambling only as an ancillary activity and only to ticketed passengers. They would have to close their casinos when in port.
Cruise ships must receive an exemption from the state to offer gambling at fees ranging from $10,000 to $40,000 per ship per year.
The cost will be worth it, said Ray Pedersen, president of Princess Tours, a division of Princess Cruises which is based in Seattle and handles land arrangements for the cruise line. The company worked to have the legislation introduced.
Although sightseeing is the main reason most travelers cruise to Alaska, Pedersen said, gambling is a draw and if it’s not available travelers may opt for other cruise destinations.