Gamblers, joining a cruise line’s player’s club can make you a winner, at least in terms of perks

If you’re a gambler looking for a sure thing, join a cruise line player’s club. Not only will you receive cruise-time perks, but you also may be invited to sail for free.

We’re not saying this is a financial plan that makes any sense; your odds of coming out ahead monetarily are dismal, just as they are in Las Vegas.

But if you enjoy gambling, think of it only as entertainment and limit your expenditures, you may come up aces in terms of fun.

"If you’re going to gamble on a cruise, be sure to always join the line’s gambling loyalty program," said Dori Saltzman, senior editor at .

"You’ll earn points both for the money you spend and for the amount of time you spend in the casino.

“Once you’ve reached enough points, you can earn perks like free-drink cards, cruise discounts and even free cruises."

Most lines offer the programs; you can sign up on board at the casino host’s desk.

The program, for instance, is called Players Club and is designed for passengers 18 and older.

Members earn points while playing at tables and slots; the more points you earn while playing, the more benefits you can accrue.

The payoff can be in free drinks while you play (no, you don’t automatically get free drinks) and invitations to sail on .

has similar offers. Its program, , was updated recently to allow members to accrue and share points on and .

The NCL program has a sliding scale of awards you can earn, including such perks as early boarding and cruise cabin discounts.

As with all player programs, you must be careful that you’re not spending more for perks by earning them with points than you would be if you paid cash outright.

Here’s why Las Vegas’ perks seem more generous by comparison: competition. Hundreds of casinos compete for your money there. If you don’t like the odds or the perks, you can go next door.

Ships, on the other hand, have a captive audience.

Besides player programs, cruise lines offer other enticements.

"If you are new to gambling, most cruise lines offer demonstrations on how to play table games like poker or blackjack in the casino during the day," said John Maguire, chief executive of .

If your skills are at the opposite end of the player scale, you might want to get involved in some of the tournaments that cruise lines host.

Carnival and Norwegian offer blackjack, slots and poker tournaments that attract hundreds of gaming enthusiasts.

Players qualify in rounds on cruises throughout the year. The final competition takes place late in the year.

There are also theme cruises throughout the year for gamblers. To find these, see , and search for types of cruises, such as "poker." Several are listed, including a World Poker Tour sailing Sept. 24 aboard ’s Oasis of the Seas.

Three other poker cruises are scheduled by , including a Miami-to-Mexico cruise on Dec. 3.

Whether you’re gambling on a theme cruise or you just strolled into the casino on a regular cruise, "the odds of the game are the same as at land-based casinos," Maguire said.

"However, cruise lines do value their casino guests. If you are a frequent onboard gambler, certain cruise lines will actually invite you to sail for free.

“These are normally last-minute invitations," he added.

There are also special promotions and VIP offers in the casinos for cruise line loyalty members.

In the long run, you can’t beat the house, but you can have fun and if you’re lucky, pick up some perks.

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