For the past few years, failed attempts at legislation have made it seem as if the Florida sports gambling ship had sailed.
Yet it may be ships that give residents their first taste of legal wagering without traveling to Mississippi or Tennessee.
Earlier this month, Princess Cruises announced it will launch its Ocean Sportsbook sports betting app. The platform will offer cruisers the chance to bet on sporting events when MedallionClass ships cross into international waters or “wherever permitted by law,” according to a Princess Cruises press release.
“On Princess MedallionClass cruises our guests can stay connected with their friends and family around the world, and now with Ocean Sportsbook, they can also stay connected to their favorite teams and wager on a host of events whenever they sail with us,” Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, said in the press release.
“Taking a cruise vacation no longer means being disconnected from a big game, an iconic event or friends and family.”
Sportsbook available on seven Princess ships embarking from Florida
Ocean Sportsbook will only be available on ships that offer the MedallionClass Experience, an amenity-heavy tier that provides a variety of Wi-Fi enable perks.
And though Princess only has one port in Florida, Ft. Lauderdale, it is home to five MedallionClass-enabled ships that make round-trips:
- Caribbean Princess
- Crown Princess
- Enchanted Princess
- Regal Princess
- Sky Princess
Ft. Lauderdale also sends out one-way trip ships that offer MedallionClass: the Island Princess and Ruby Princess.
While aboard, bettors can place prop bets and bet on games that take place during and after the cruise.
Would cruise ship betting be legal in Florida?
Sports betting remains illegal in Florida. However, the state’s spring legislative session kicks off March 2 and includes a trio of bills that aim to legalize sports wagering in the Sunshine State.
Sports betting on cruise ships brings up a variety of legal complications. Among them: At which distance is a cruise ship beyond the jurisdiction of Florida’s ban on sports betting?
In general, a nation can enforce its laws in waters up to 12 nautical miles from shore. The 12-mile rule dates back to a 1982 United Nations resolution that says:
“Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention.”
The 12-mile zone is known as “territorial waters.” Once a ship sails beyond territorial waters, it’s in what is commonly referred to as “international waters,” where many US laws would no longer apply.
Gulf Stream complicates things
Florida’s constitution notes that its jurisdictional waters extend to:
- The greater of three geographic miles or the edge of the Gulf Stream on its eastern border
- Nine nautical miles on its southern and western borders
This means, presumably, that the state’s gambling ban wouldn’t apply if a Princess ship sailed beyond three miles of the state’s Atlantic shore, except in situations where the Gulf Stream’s edge is farther than three miles offshore.
It’s reasonable to expect that Florida lawmakers, who are notoriously anti-sports betting, will hold Princess Cruises to the letter of the law when it comes to jurisdiction.
Appellate court decision sheds light on cruise ship gambling
What would Florida’s gambling and territorial waters laws look like in real life?
A 2007 Florida Senate paper titled “Legal Issues and State Authority Related to Territorial Waters” sheds some light on the matter.
Among other maritime issues, the paper addresses a First District Court of Appeal case related to cruises to nowhere. These ships sail out and return without stopping in a port. The paper notes that the Johnson Act and Gambling Ship Act apply to cruise-to-nowhere vessels.
“The Johnson Act provides for a gambling exemption to these ships outside a three-mile limit, meaning that gambling activities can take place once the cruise ship [has] passed the three-mile boundary,” the Senate wrote.
This would seem to make the case for cruise-ship gambling in Florida a lock. However, there’s one big twist at the end of the Senate’s analysis of the case:
“The Court’s footnote in this case, however, may be an indication of sorts that an argument might be made that Florida’s territorial waters could have extended in excess of the US territorial boundary of 12 miles.”