June 21, 2021

Game on: Caribbean casinos are hot

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1397495752000-Courtesy-Atlantis-Nassau.jpgBy Steve Blount From USA Today

Atlantis has always been known for its over-the-top decor, and that holds true for its casino as well. The main gaming area encompasses more than 80 tables for blackjack, baccarat and craps along with almost 1,800 slot and video-poker machines. Courtesy Atlantis Nassau

When you book a trip to the Caribbean you know there are some high-percentage plays: The sun will shine. The water will be blue. You will enjoy yourself. If that’s just too much certainty, you can spice things up by gambling in one of the region’s 160-some casinos.

After a couple of down years during the Great Recession that saw closures of some signature casinos such as the El Conquistador in Puerto Rico and the Trump Privée in St. Vincent, the business is booming again, with new investments and new options in the pipeline.

Gaming isn’t new to the islands: it was the big draw at the Tropicana night club in pre-Castro Cuba. It was the inspiration for the fictional Tropicana featured on I Love Lucy and its shows originated the tradition of casino showgirls barely clad in sequins and feathers that has spread around the world.

The casino scene has evolved greatly since the 1950s, and trends started elsewhere are now making their way to the Caribbean: Bigger casinos, more machines (slot and video poker), elegant surroundings and luxury amenities are all part of players’ expectations.

The region’s biggest casino to date — 100,000 square feet — is set to open in December, when the Baha Mar development on Nassau’s Cable Beach is scheduled to debut.



Proving that nothing succeeds like excess, Atlantis Paradise Island has never been known for its restraint, either in ambition or decor. That’s true of the resort’s casino as well. The main gaming area encompasses more than 80 tables for blackjack, baccarat and craps along with almost 1,800 slot and video-poker machines. The interior is, of course, stunning, but if you want to actually see the tropics while you’re in them, you can gamble at two other locations that overlook the beach and grounds: The Cove and Sea Glass. Or you can gamble poolside using the Atlantis gaming app on your phone or tablet. World Travel Awards has named Atlantis the region’s best casino every year from 2009-2013. atlantis.com


1397495861000-Courtesy-Hard-Rock-Casino-Punta-Cana.jpgHARD ROCK, PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

The Dominican Republic is no stranger to casinos; with nearly three-dozen facilities in the country, it’s the biggest player in the Caribbean stakes game. Undoubtedly that’s one thing that attracted Hard Rock to build a casino in Punta Cana, the upscale development on the east coast. At 45,000 square feet, the casino is massive, about two supermarkets’ worth of floor space. That’s enough room for 40 tables of baccarat, blackjack, roulette and craps and almost 400 machines. There’s a VIP club for high-rollers and no-limit Texas Hold-’em. The main gambling floor exudes a cool, sophisticated vibe well suited to the well-heeled patrons of Punta Cana. hardrockhotelpuntacana.com



Located at the Aruba Marriott Resort on Palm Beach, Stellaris is consistently mentioned among the region’s top casinos. The resort is beautiful, the beach is spectacular and the casino has high-stakes poker and 28 tables for serious gamers. It’s fun for dabblers too — there are almost 500 slot machines, and a current promotion offers to pay up to $50 in losses if you play them and happen to be unlucky. But, if you’re staying at the Marriott on Palm Beach, can you really consider yourself unlucky? stellariscasino.com

1397496127000-Courtesy-Casino-Royale-St-MaartenCASINO ROYALE, MAHO, ST. MAARTEN

Given his fondness for the Caribbean, James Bond would almost certainly have gambled here instead of at the Casino Royale-Les-Eaux in Monaco if he (and the casino) hadn’t been fictional. Situated in Maho Beach on the island’s southeast coast, the 21,000-square-foot casino goes for the glitter, with 21 game tables and more than 400 slot and video-poker machines. A televised World Poker Tour event was held here last year and the management freshens it up with monthly contests, car giveaways and the like. There’s a free cabaret show on Fridays and Saturdays featuring local French/Dutch beauties. playmaho.com


1397496042000-Courtesy-Alhambra-Casino-ArubaThe Alhambra is one of the few Caribbean casinos not part of a hotel or resort. It’s always been a standalone venue, but, since it’s on Aruba’s Palm Beach, it’s surrounded by hotels. Recent renovations updated the atmosphere but it’s not a vast rambling gambling palace as you might have experienced in Las Vegas; there are two-dozen tables accompanied by 350 slot, video-poker and multi-game machines. The Alhambra is popular with seasonal residents who own condos so it has more of a local flavor. As the ratio of machines to tables would suggest, it’s more of a diversion than a destination for hardcore games. casinoalhambra.com



The El San Juan Casino is part of the Hilton in the Isla Verde beach district, about a 10-minute taxi ride from Old San Juan. It’s not cavernous — just a few tables and the slot/video-poker machines — but this is an institution in the city. You’ll find the other customers are dressed to impress: no t-shirts, baggy shorts or hats on backwards. The table stakes aren’t the lowest in town, either, so the crowd tends toward the upscale. Both the lobby bar and Brava, the property’s nightclub, are hot on the weekends, with name bands drawing big crowds. It’s a little bit of Vegas on a more intimate scale. elsanjuanhotel.com/activities/



Several of the casinos on this list have received major upgrades recently, and several are scheduled for renovation this year. The famous Jaragua in Santo Domingo would have been on this list if it weren’t undergoing rehab right now. However, nothing tops the reported $3.5 billion investment backed by the Chinese government in the Baha Mar development on Nassau’s Cable Beach. The project includes 2,900 hotel rooms, a Jack Nicklaus golf course and what developers say will be a casino that will give Atlantis — the reigning champ of the region just a few miles away — a run for its money. The hotels are slated to include a Rosewood, a Grand Hyatt and the reflagged/renovated Sheraton (now a Melia), while the casino is planned to have nearly 100,000 square feet of gaming space with 150 tables and up to 1,500 slot/video machines. It’s reportedly the largest tourism development project in the Western Hemisphere underway at this time. Even the Bahamian prime minister’s office was relocated to make way for the new complex. Powered by legions of Chinese construction workers, the project is scheduled to open in December 2014. bahamar.com

Plan a getaway: To speak with a Caribbean Island specialist for free, visit Tripology.com.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the owner of the Hard Rock in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The casino is actually owned by the Chapur family and is managed by Hard Rock International.

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