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Criminal Resource Manual

2089. The Gambling Ship Act (18 U.S.C. 1081, Et Seq.)

Section 1081 defines "gambling ship" to mean a vessel used principally for the operation of one or more gambling establishments.

In making a prosecutorial determination whether a particular ship is a gambling ship within the meaning of this definition, it will be presumed that a ship which operates one or more gambling establishments on board is a "gambling ship," unless it cruises for a minimum of 24 hours with meals and lodging provided for all passengers, or unless it docks at a foreign port. The fact that the presumption applies or does not apply in a given situation, however, is not ultimately determinative of compliance with Section 1081, et seq., but merely provides guidance to United States Attorneys in exercising their prosecutorial discretion under the pertinent statutes.

In 1994, Congress amended this definition to further state that "[s]uch term does not include a vessel with respect to gambling aboard such vessel beyond the territorial waters of the United States during a covered voyage (as defined in section 4472 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as in effect on January 1, 1994.)"

Section 4472 of Title 26 defines a "covered voyage" as the voyage of

  1. (i) a commercial passenger vessel which extends over [one] or more nights, or (ii) a commercial vessel transporting passengers engaged in gambling aboard the vessel beyond the territorial waters of the United States, during which passengers embark or disembark the vessel in the United States. Such term does not include any voyage on any vessel owned or operated by the United States, a State, or any agency or subdivision thereof.

The term "covered voyage" also does not include "a voyage by a passenger vessel [vessel having berth or stateroom accommodations for more than sixteen passengers] of less than [twelve] hours between [two] ports in the United States." This definition of a gambling ship severely limits the application of the Gambling Ship Act as many vessels will fall within the "covered voyage" exception.

Section 1082 prohibits operating a gambling ship, holding an interest in a gambling ship or a gambling establishment on a gambling ship, conducting a gambling game or gambling device at a gambling establishment on a gambling ship, or enticing or soliciting a person to bet or play at a gambling establishment on a gambling ship when the vessel is on the high seas or "otherwise under or within the jurisdiction of the United States, and is not within the jurisdiction of any State."

Section 1083 prohibits the operation of shuttle crafts, that is, vessels used to transport passengers between "a point or place within the United States and a gambling ship which is not within the jurisdiction of any State."

An explanation of this Act and related statutes applicable to cruise ship gambling is available from the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section in the Criminal Division.

[cited in USAM 9-110.900]