Casinos, sports betting and nearly all forms of gambling are illegal in Georgia. Indeed, the state has some of the strictest gaming laws in the country. Georgia’s lone gaming venue skirts the law off the Brunswick coast.
There are only a few options for Georgia gambling in the state. Which is why companies that want to offer casino games must be creative.
The Emerald Princess II (EPII), built in 1998, is a 200-foot passenger ship that sets out four days a week on casino cruises. For $25, a customer can take a five-hour cruise from Brunswick Harbor into international waters to play a variety of typical casino games and a couple house specials.
What games are available? Who can play? And, how is this legal? These are some of the questions we’ll explore as to how Georgia’s lone gaming venue skirts the law off the Brunswick coast.
How is this even legal?
Let’s start with the most interesting question first. How is it legal that, in a state where betting on almost everything is illegal, a person can hop on a casino cruise ship and bet money on slots and table games?
A short history of maritime law is in order to understand the EPII’s system.
The territorial and contiguous seas
Carrying over from the riverboat gambling heyday of the mid-19th century, casino cruises took off in the years after The Great Depression. Cruise ships up and down the eastern and western seaboards and in the Gulf of Mexico offered patrons short jaunts along the coast in what was known as the territorial sea.
This strip of ocean under US legal jurisdiction represented the distance from shore to three miles out to sea. Ships typically wouldn’t venture out that far – just far enough to not run aground when the tide went out. Passengers were free to play various casino games, listen to music, have a drink and take in the sea air.
President Harry S. Truman outlawed these “voyages to nowhere,” as they were called by detractors, in 1948. The act did very little to stop the practice, however. Gambling cruise operators simply changed their route to go out a little further beyond the territorial sea into the contiguous sea (3.1 to 24 miles out from land) where US Law did not apply. The Coast Guard could still intervene if, say, ships were permitting drugs or other contraband on board. This rarely happened, though, and so business as usual carried on for casino cruises.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan made casino cruises more costly by extending the range of the territorial sea to 12 miles out from land. This meant that new gambling cruise operators needed quite a bit more gas to get their clients to gambling-safe waters. Again, this did little to quell gambling cruises.
The 12.1-mile marker is now the established distance for all American casino cruise operators on all coasts.
Georgia has seen casino cruise ships come and go
For a time in the mid-to-late 1990s, The EPII had company at sea. The Diamond Royale and the Millionaire’s Casino also ran regular casino cruises. Those two ships are now both defunct.
The Diamond Royale’s operation, which embarked from the Bull River near Savannah, actually ran afoul of the Coast Guard. Nearly $7 million in gambling winnings were seized, and the ship never got out of legal trouble after that. It was sold to a salvage company and towed to Florida.
The Millionaire’s Casino was built as a casino boat in 1977 and operated as the Europa Star until 2001. After that, it changed names to the Stardancer V before it took on the title Millionaire’s Casino when it operated in Georgia. It kept that name from 2003-2004 before becoming the Texas Star, its last iteration as a casino cruise ship. The Millionaire’s Casino was recently sunk off the Delaware coast.
The EPII in Brunswick now treads Georgia’s coastal waters alone for the foreseeable future.
A full slate of casino games and slots on offer on the Emerald Princess
The Emerald Princess II features over 250 slot machines along with around 20 tables. The casino currently offers the following table games:
- Roulette (two wheels)
- Blackjack (12 tables)
- Emerald Princess Stud Poker (two tables)
- Craps (one table)
- Triple Time, an EP exclusive poker game (one table)
- Big 20 Bonus, an EP exclusive blackjack game (one table)
- Video Poker and Blackjack
- Texas Hold ‘em (occasionally one or two tables)
Hours, Age Requirements, Schedule
|Monday||Tuesday||Wednesday||Thursday||Friday (two cruises)||Saturday (two cruises)||Sunday|
|No Sail||No Sail||No Sail||7 p.m.-midnight||11 a.m.-4 p.m.; |
|11 a.m.-4 p.m.; |
7 p.m.-1 a.m.
|1 p.m.-6 p.m.|
To board the ship, all customers must be 21 and present a valid government ID.
Once onboard, the ship offers dining on the third deck on a first come, first serve basis. Live music (Friday and Saturday evening cruises only) and a dance floor are also featured on the third floor.
The crew recommends everyone arrive 20 minutes before their scheduled launch time because the ship launches promptly to give everyone their full four- to five-hour trip.