It took some tinkering, but a casino boat operator thinks he has a winning plan for operating out of North Charleston: a bigger, faster ship with more entertainment.

The deal could be "locked up" within 30 days, Hank Hofford said Friday.

In addition to gambling, the cruise would have movies, live shows and dining. If all goes as planned, it will begin in the fall, Hofford said.

The cruise would be on a renovated "fast ferry," a 58-foot-wide, two-level ship with a 400-seat theater. It would make a 75-minute journey beyond three miles at sea to international waters, where slot machines and gaming tables are allowed.

The ship could carry up to 600 people.

Hofford, one of the business partners in the venture, described the operation as more of a night on the town with entertainment and good food than high-stakes gambling.

The group behind the $12 million enterprise had a boat under contract but decided it needed a much larger, speedier vessel. Travel time was a concern, he said.

The ship has "high-tech stabilization" and can travel up to about 20 mph. It could become a daily operation sailing from leased docks, he said.

The ship would run from a pier on the northern end of the former Charleston Naval Base complex near Riverfront Park.

Casino boats were legalized by the city in October. They became legal in South Carolina after the Legislature passed a bill specifically giving local governments the authority to accept or reject them. Little River, north of Myrtle Beach, is the only other jurisdiction in the state where they operate.

North Charleston City Council endorsed the boats leaving from the Cooper River waterfront, estimating they could bring in at least $700,000 a year to the city's bank account from the various taxes, fees and other offshoot dividends associated with the trips.