South Carolina isn’t necessarily the first place that springs to mind when Americans think of gambling, but despite a legislative environment that looks challenging at first glance, it has a strong casino offering in the form of Big M.
All forms of gambling aside from the lottery are banned in the Palmetto State. Tribal groups aren’t allowed gaming permits on their land and even playing poker at home is forbidden, with police more than willing to make arrests where the law is breached.
Despite all this, South Carolina still manages to boast four casinos with 775 slot and gaming machines as well 58 table games (including blackjack, poker and roulette) between them. No mean feat in a state that tough on gambling.
The work-around that enables these casinos to exist in the state with the second strictest gambling laws after Utah is an old American tradition – gambling on the water. US maritime law allows for offshore gambling once a boat is three miles offshore and sailing in international waters. In a city that loves its boats turning them into floating casinos is a fittingly creative solution for those looking for a flutter.
This workaround leaves gamblers with a couple of options. There are the Carnival Cruise ships, but they involve a five day round trip to the Bahamas. For those wanting a more casual experience the only choice in town is Big M with its two luxury yachts.
The two Big M ships attract visitors year round with trips lasting five to five and a half hours every day of the week, day and night. On top of the obvious attraction of the slots and gaming tables, the boats offer an all you can eat buffet. For those looking for something a little different there are even occasional special offerings, including the likes of Prime Rib Night and Italian Night on Ship II and Chef’s Choice Themed Buffet on Saturday nights for Ship I passengers.
Sailing from Little River a couple of miles from North Myrtle Beach, Big M is an easy drive up the coast from Charleston and a straightforward day trip from Columbia. To get in you’ll need to be over 21 and meet the dress code (casual, nothing too revealing, no offensive tattoos showing, no swimwear) and then once the boat is three miles from the coast – about a 45 minute trip in normal conditions – you’re free to start gambling.
Once you're out at sea, the ships boast an impressive amount of choice. Ship I has 148 machines while Ship II hosts a huge 248 slots. The games on offer include Pot O' Gold; Double Diamond; Game King; Wild Cherry; Wheel of Fortune; Bally Cash Wizard; Quick Hit Platinum; Double Jackpot 7's; Wolf Run; Double Gold and Lobstermania. The machines offer up all the bright lights and sounds you expect from a casino when you win big.
Table games, meanwhile, include Roulette, Blackjack, Craps, Let It Ride, and more. For poker fans there are a few choices. There’s Video Poker amongst the machines, while those preferring a live dealer can try their hand at Three Card Poker or Texas Hold ‘em Poker (Ship I only).
Smokers are catered for with both smoking and non-smoking decks on each boat.
Beyond the gambling and the food, Big M is also a great opportunity to take in South Carolina’s coast from up on the deck, or just enjoy being out on the open ocean. If you’d rather have a dance then watch out for entertainment by local DJs on select cruises. Or, if you’re just in the mood for relaxing, catch your favourite sports and programming on TVs available on the upper deck.
South Carolina’s tough gambling laws are unlikely to change any time too soon, but the loophole offered up by US maritime law means that Big M is still able to offer a wide range of slots and table games without making you drive 10 hours to Atlantic City or board a flight out to Las Vegas.