In the process of researching something entirely unrelated, I stumbled upon this Youtube video for Part 1: Of a two-part mini documentary on the Jacks or Better cruise casino. It’s called Casino Reality Spec Show.
While I have called this article, “Riverboat Review,” the purpose is to review the documentary and discuss what befell the Jacks or Better vessel after the documentary concluded. For those who are wondering, this isn’t a riverboat like Harrah’s Kansas City, for one example.
Seriously, does THAT look like a boat to you? That just had to do with a law that Missouri had, but you were allowed to build a fixed structure as long as it was technically over the water. The Supreme Court of the State of Missouri would later decide that it had to be a literal boat, but the State Legislature (and, we assume, the Executive Branch as well) liked the gambling revenues too much to actually enforce that.
The Jacks or Better Casino, on the other hand, was actually an old school gambling cruise ship. During the time of the documentary, it sailed out of Florida, near Jacksonville.
A casino riverboat has to be twelve miles off of land in order for the casino to open. (Except it was apparently three miles when the ship was in Florida and 9.1 miles when leaving Texas) Casinos also technically have the option of sailing within so many miles of a country in which gambling is legal, but if they did that, could technically be subject to the gambling laws of that country.
Documentary Part 1
We start with the owner of Jacks or Better Casino, identified as, “Mr. M,” who says that this will be the first time a documentary has full access to a casino. I tend to doubt that is actually true, but you know, you’ve got to sell it---so that’s fine.
The only information that we get on, “Mr. M,” is that he is a, “Beverly Hills Millionaire,” and then he goes on to say that he doesn’t consider himself addicted to gambling, but really likes it.
After that, we meet General Manager, Paul Denton, and are informed that the ship is struggling after being open under Mr. M’s ownership for the last six months. We find out from Paul Denton that the casino took a hit of $36,371 the night before, largely due to two guys who won about 12k apiece.
The documentary said this took place, “Last night,” which Mr. Denton informs us was Wednesday night, but then he says, “There’s no way the casino will end up showing a profit.” (For the week)
In my opinion, that seems like a weird statement for him to make. If the casino can lose 36k in one night, then certainly it should also be able to win 36k in one night, one would think.
“Captain Nick,” is the ship’s captain, and it seems that Florida only requires these gambling cruise ships to sail three miles out before they begin operations, because references are made to the three-mile line.
The next part of the setup is that we meet, “Fatboy,” who says that he is having some trouble at home and will likely, “Jump off the boat,” if he doesn’t win. I won’t hazard a guess as to whether or not Fatboy is legitimate or he was put there for dramatic purposes, but we will see him appear off and on throughout both parts of the documentary. He starts his night at the Blackjack table by buying in for $10,000.
The first decision that the casino has to make is that Fatboy demands that the Table Maximum be increased from $1,000 to $3,000. Fatboy had been playing two hands at $1,000/apiece, so according to Denton, he was already being permitted to play more than the table maximum. After some back and forth with surveillance, Denton and Mr. M, they decide they will let Fatboy play as many as three hands.
The next thing we know, Captain Nick is reporting a problem with one of the ship’s generators to Denton---the casino is already down over $7,000 for the night, at this point, (though the house running all three hands on Fatboy a few times could change that almost immediately) and he says they might need to turn around if they can’t get the second generator fixed. The problem, he says, is that there’s no way they can run the ship for three hours on one generator.
One highlight is this section regarding Craps where the narrator, no joke, says:
There are only sixteen dice combinations to win on a one-roll bet (Field Bet). giving Sal a 56% chance of losing on a bet that pays Even Money. Sal always waits to see three non-Field rolls first, greatly improving the probability of winning and decreasing the probability of losing from 56% to 9.5%.
Wow. There’s a lot to unpack there.
First of all, should the narrator of this ever happen upon this article, my advice to him is: Never gamble.
Secondly, the Field Bet (I could tell from pausing) pays Double on the 2, and I assume also pays double on the 12, so it’s not exclusively an Even Money bet. I wouldn’t normally be that nitpicky, but since everything else that the narrator said is total nonsense, I’m going to go ahead and point that out.
The probability of a non-field (5-6-7-8) roll is 20/36 = .55556, so the narrator actually managed to get that one right...but now we get into the nonsense.
That is the probability of a non-field roll for every single roll of the dice. It does not change. It does not matter if there have been three, eight, seventeen or zero non-Field rolls before that. It doesn’t matter if three, five or eight fields have hit in a row prior to that.
Don’t get me wrong, the documentary is enjoyable so far and will probably get a rating that means that I recommend watching it, but if you’re going to purport to produce a gambling documentary, you shouldn’t push out nonsense like this.
The math that the narrator (or writer) is doing to get to 9.5% is that is simply the probability of having four non-Field results in a row...but that only applies BEFORE any non-Field results have happened. When three non-Field results have already happened, then the only thing relevant is the next roll which has a probability of about 55.556% of being a non-Field number.
I just wish documentaries would be more careful about this sort of thing. It seems to me that there are people out there who would think, Oh, that makes total sense, and it was on a gambling documentary, then it must be true!
No, it is absolutely not true. If you could bet the Field in a way that actually improved your probability of winning the bet to 90%+, someone would have figured that out already and either all the casinos in the world would be closed or would no longer offer Craps.
The first part of the documentary ends with the resolution to the night’s generator problem and reports how much the ship is up or down, for the night, at that time. Check it out if you want to know!
NOTE: You will also want to watch Part 1 before you continue reading this article as some things that will follow would otherwise spoil Part 1.
Documentary Part 2
We open up the second part of the documentary with Fatboy trying to shove, “All-In,’ on a single hand of Blackjack because, “Last hand,” had been called. We are led to believe that it’s a pretty big decision whether or not to allow this hand to be played because, if they allow it, then whether or not the ship has a profitable trip depends on the result of that one hand.
I’m actually going to go ahead and spoil whether or not he gets to play the hand, but I won’t disclose the result (you’ll have to watch). Denton gets Mr. M involved to see if the Table Maximum can be ignored for the last hand. Fatboy has $11,300 in front of him, so Mr. M. says, “Take $100 off of that, so that way, after you lose, you’ll have car fare home.”
That said, assuming this is all perfectly authentic (which I doubt), it makes total sense that the ship would take the bet. Fatboy has all of his chips out there; he can’t buy-in for more, he can’t split, he can’t double down...so this is a much higher advantage on this hand than would normally be enjoyed by the Jacks or Better vessel.
The hand that unfolds: Let’s just say that the timing of such a hand is very suspicious.
The last few minutes of the documentary involve pulling out all of the cash drop boxes from the tables and we see the crew, and Mr. M, take them all down to the count room to see how the casino performed for the trip. Finally, we see some of the customers departing the ship, walking past the staff, high-fiving some of them and shaking hands. I tend to imagine that some of them are regulars, so they probably get to know some of the staff pretty well.
Overall, I’d recommend watching the documentary because it’s fairly entertaining. With that said, I am very highly skeptical of two aspects in particular:
1.) I’m not sure that I believe that there was actually a serious generator problem that might have resulted in the need to turn the ship back around. What we come to find out is that the ship came within fifty yards of the, “Three-mile,” line when it was reported to Captain Nick that the generator had been fixed.
That’s so ridiculously convenient for the plot that I can’t even begin to believe that this legitimately happened. Personally, I think it’s possible that the generator had a small problem that needed repaired, so someone associated with the documentary said, “Hey, let’s build a storyline out of this!”
2.) The Blackjack hand involving Fatboy in Part 2 (which I won’t spoil) is mathematically possible, of course, but for the last hand of the night to play out as this one did is so absurdly convenient that I am extremely suspicious as to the authenticity of it.
-Beyond that, I also have to wonder if Fatboy is a, “Real person.” The thing about Fatboy is that, if I wanted to put together a caricature of a gambling addict in a way to make as much fun of gambling addiction as possible, Fatboy is right along the lines of what I would come up with.
-I’m not saying that Fatboy wasn’t normally a patron of the Jacks or Better cruise ship (which was a real casino cruise boat), but that the whole situation involving him throughout the entire night seems highly staged. Everything about it seems staged. Maybe give it a watch (particularly Part Two) and let me know what you think in the comments.
All of that being said, I still recommend watching it for entertainment value. I also tend to think there was some truth as relates to ship operations sprinkled in with the aspects of the documentary that leave me feeling highly skeptical.
After the Documentary
The first thing to note is that, probable scripting aside, the Jacks or Better Casino cruise ship was a legitimate vessel that sailed three miles off of the coast, near Jacksonville, Florida, but would eventually relocate its operations first to Arkansas and then Texas.
If there’s one thing that can be believed, it’s that the ship faced some amount of financial difficulties. It’s actually a heck of an operation to have to run, and if you pay attention to how many staffers there are, here are a few I noticed without even really paying attention:
Unnamed Repair Guy-Maintenance
Dealers---(At least ten dealers)
Cocktail Waitresses---(At least a half dozen)
And, there are certainly some other staffers that I did not notice. If what is reported about what the ship made that night is true, then one has to imagine that a not insignificant percentage of that nightly take goes to payroll. After that, you have to consider ship maintenance, as well as a bunch of other fixed expenses.
Additionally, the ship cannot always sail, as scheduled, because weather will occasionally not permit that. If some of the reviews that I have found around the internet can be believed, the ship also did not sail on some (scheduled) nights because they didn’t have the minimum number of customers to justify it. On those nights, I would assume that the staffers still got paid something by way of, “Show up money,” or I certainly wouldn’t be working for the operation. Not only that, but some of the employees are almost certainly salaried and get paid whether or not the thing leaves port.
World Casino Directory reports.
That this casino ship would leave the Jacksonville area shortly after the documentary was published and rebrand, now departing from Texas, as the Aransas Queen Casino. After operating for about two years under that name, it would rebrand (or, reverse brand?) back to its Florida moniker--Jacks or Better Casino.
World Casino Directory also reports that the ship changed boards due to frequently poor weather at its original port, which included frequent high winds, thereby increasing maintenance and operating costs.
Another frequently reported problem on WCD, in the generally unfavorable reviews, is that seasickness seems to be a frequent problem experienced by the customers.
WCD reported that games included some 180 slot machines ranging in denomination from pennies to $25 credits. Given that this is a cruise ship operation, while perhaps we shouldn’t make assumptions, slot payouts generally tend to be pretty terrible on those kinds of operations. From what I can tell, the slots also wouldn’t have any particular statutory minimum payout, so my assumption (which could be wrong) is that almost every machine is set to the worst possible return setting that the manufacturer has as an option.
Table limits were reported by WCD as ranging from $5-$500 with included games being Blackjack, Roulette and Craps. Three-Card Poker as well as a game called, “Texas Shootout,” (which the documentary says was invented by the owner) were also mentioned in the documentary, but not the WCD review. WCD reports that Blackjack rules were Double on Any Two Cards, splitting aces was allowed and double after split (up to two hands, not on aces) was also permitted. Other Table Games were mentioned in the side listings, but not in the main review.
Shortly after the, “Jacks or Better,” re-rebranding, the ship is reported to have crashed into a jetty, so it seems that luck was frequently not on the casino’s side.
The damages would cost $40,000 to fix, so again, more bad luck for Jacks or Better. If the numbers presented in the documentary could be believed, then $40,000 would represent a pretty good WEEK for the ship, in terms of gambling revenue.
We suppose a $20 gambling credit is good, as well as the free entry for another cruise, since the one in which they lost their cookies apparently had a $15 admission fee.
So, what to do when the captain hits something? I guess you leave it for the customers to decide whether or not to vote him off the island, the article reported:
It’s not the physical condition of the boat, however, that is keeping the story in the news, but JOB’s public relations response. The Texas casino cruise ship recently asked to its social media channels, “Jacks or Better Casino must make a decision before we reopen on April 28. Should we reinstate Captain David Kendrick or should we fire him?”
Maybe it was just a PR stunt to put it up to a vote and ownership already knew what it was going to do, still, credit to them for at least finding a way to make a little light out of the situation.
In any event, Captain David Kendrick was retained after the accident and the casino publicly submitted his negative toxicology report.
The following month a customer would find herself injured in a slip-and-fall, for which she would file a lawsuit against the casino nearly two years later.
According to that article, the casino was not operating at the time, but apparently the company still existed. It also appears that the ship would later take down both its Facebook and Twitter pages. There’s currently a Facebook page with the title Jacks or Better Casino.
But, it doesn’t say anything aside from the casino being permanently closed.
They were registered in the State of Florida as, “Cruises to Nowhere LLC,” during the time of the documentary, and would later register in Texas under the same name while forfeiting the Florida LLC. However, this update...
Would indicate that they forfeited the business name in the State of Texas back in 2018, so it would appear that the lawsuit was filed after they were already technically out of existence. The injury and subsequent lawsuit was also reported here.
Here’s quite a paragraph:
Wilson’s mention of the timing is an implication that she had the express invitation of crew members to walk on that deck at that time. Her suit also makes the allegation that crew members did not warn her about the slippery conditions where she would be walking.
Can you imagine that! What negligence on the part of staff to fail to mention that the deck of a cruise ship could be wet! The audacity! Who would ever expect an outdoors part of a sea-faring vessel to possibly have a wet floor!?
In any case, the original lawsuit also claimed that the ship lacked proper non-skid surface flooring, so that might possibly be a legitimate component.
I wanted to find out how the case was resolved, but it appears that it hasn’t been yet.
One development is that the Defendant no longer has Counsel as the attorney for the Defendant filed a Motion to Withdraw.
Which was granted. The former manager of the cruise ship (who was probably just doing his job, so I’m not going to name him in this article) had retained counsel, but counsel was never paid ($250/hour) on any of their invoices. Upon reaching out to the former General Manager, counsel was informed that he was no longer General Manager and was also no longer being compensated by the casino company.
Therefore, defense counsel moved to withdraw on the grounds that they had never been paid, and said Motion to Withdraw was granted.
The Plaintiff then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, for which a non-final MSJ was granted, but all attempts to mail the notices to the address on file for the company failed and were returned. That’s basically it for now.
From what I can tell, the “Cruise to Nowhere,” has reached its final destination.
Ultimately, the documentary strikes me as being, quite probably, largely scripted with certain elements of truth to it. Certainly mechanical problems must happen on cruise ships of this nature, and we do have reported evidence of plenty of real-world, unscripted, issues surrounding this particular ship---but a few unfoldings in the, ‘Documentary,’ were too perfectly timed---and played out too perfectly---to be believed.
One Youtube commenter hypothesized that maybe Fatboy was real and was allowed to bet everything he had in front of him on that one hand. The commenter followed that up by suggesting that Fatboy’s reaction (and interview after the hand) might have both been genuine, but then Fatboy was offered something to go in and re-film the hand in a way that would cause it to play out even more dramatically.
I don’t know if I necessarily buy into that (in favor of my theory that it was scripted all along), but I must admit, that is a viable theory.
If anyone reading this happened to depart on the Jacks or Better from Florida or Texas and you want to share your experience, then I’d love to hear about it!
Overall, I’m going to give the documentary a 6/10 and say that I recommend watching it. It’s really more of a, “Reality show,” than it is a documentary in the sense that I think not everything about it was necessarily real. That said, it still offers a little bit of interesting insight into how gambling cruise ship operations work and the troubles that such a ship might face.