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Last Updated: December 7, 2011

Casinos of Argentina and Uruguay

In November 2011, I paid a visit to three casinos in Argentina and two in Uruguay. I know it isn't much, but the casinos in South America are geographically spread apart, requiring a good deal of travel. This article details my impressions, with an emphasis put on game selection and rules.

South America is a small but growing gambling market. There is no gambling hotspot like Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, or Macau in South America, yet. As I understand it, full-blown gambling exists, or has been recently legalized, in every country in South America except Brazil. I'm still not exactly sure what is going on in Brazil, but I think bingo machines are popular there. The country with the most casinos in South America is Argentina, by far. Uruguay, for a small country, also has a lot. So that is why I chose to visit those two.

My attempts to check out the casino scene in Brazil and Uruguay were rebuffed by a lack of a visa to Brazil, despite being just across a river from both countries. I write more about that in my upcoming article on Iguazu Falls.

Buenos Aires

There are two casinos in the greater Buenos Aires area, The Casino Puerto Madero is near the central part of Buenos Aires, a short drive from the downtown Microcenter area. The other is the Trillenium, in the suburb of Tigre, about 16 miles from downtown. There is also a racino at the Hippodromo Argentino (Argentine Racetrack), but I don't count that as a casino because it doesn't have table games.

Casino Puerto Madero

When you arrive at the Casino Puerto Madero, you may be impressed by what looks like a modern and shiny exterior. However, if you walk to the side of the building, you'll see that it is mostly a facade hiding two old dilapidated river boats. As with the so-called riverboat casinos in the United States, the player has almost no concept of actually being in a boat once inside. In the case of the Casino Puerto Madero, if you didn't take the trouble to peek around the building, the only way you would know you were on a boat would be if you went outside for a cigarette break.

After passing through the entrance building, you enter a structure between the two boats. It is the second of four floors. There you can take the stairs to the other levels and then go right or left, depending on which boat you wish to play in. The ship to the right is 100% slots. The ship to the left is about 20% slots and 80% table games. In the table games boat, the higher the floors, the higher the table minimums.
Some floors permit smoking and some do not.

Although the ships look pretty beat up from the outside, inside they were in decent shape. Unfortunately, there is no music. Combine that with a lack of free drinks and you get a very quiet and boring place to gamble. The exact opposite of what you would expect based on the many posters throughout Buenos Aires showing beautiful women in designer dresses having a great time.

The only place with something bordering on excitement was the craps table, which is called "dados" (dice) in Spanish. Otherwise, the players just sat there quietly and played and the dealers just stood there and quietly dealt. When I was there on a Monday night, about 1/3 of the table game seats were taken and about 20% of the slots occupied.

Personally, I played blackjack for about an hour and lost about 1,000 pesos (about $US 238), in what was a brutal session. Never once was I up; it was just a continuous slide down, full of broken double downs, a drought of player blackjacks, and long spells between the dealer busting. There were two older men at my table, one playing and one just watching. I wasn't sure if the observer was friends with the player or not. Since the casino was about as quiet as a library, it was hard to tell who was with whom. When I tried to interrupt the dealer to ask a question about the rules, he seemed very annoyed to be bothered.

After getting a chilly cold shoulder from my dealer, I sought out a supervisor in the pit who might not too busy to be troubled with questions. The one I found, I must say, was very patient with me and tried her best to communicate with me, despite my beginning-level Spanish. It could be that they were happy to talk to anybody. Players tended to crowd in particular areas, leaving the supervisors in the other places with nothing to do.

The table games offered are:

  • Blackjack
  • Roulette
  • Chemin de Fer
  • Craps
  • Oasis Poker
  • Three Card Poker
  • Texas Hold 'Em

Following are more details about each game:

Roulette

There can be little debate that roulette is the dominant game in not just the Casino Puerto Madero but all of Argentina. About half the floor space of the table gaming area is devoted to roulette, or Ruleta as they call it. Every table is single-zero, with no imprisonment or half-back option, making the house edge 2.70%. The minimums start at 2.5 pesos (60¢ US) on the first floor and go up to 10 pesos on the fourth floor.

Blackjack

The rules are:

  • Six decks. Most tables use a continuous shuffler.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17.
  • Double after split — Yes.
  • Surrender — No.
  • Re-split aces — No.
  • No hole card. If the player doubles or splits and dealer gets a blackjack, the player loses everything.

According to my blackjack house edge calculator, the house edge under these rules is 0.54%.

The limits start at 10-100 pesos ($2.40 - $24 US) on the first floors to 50-1000 pesos ($12-$238) on the fourth floors. The fourth-floor casino also had some tables that only accepted U.S. dollars. Since the U.S. dollar is more respected in Argentina than its own peso, this did not surprise me. At the time of this writing, the exchange rate was 4.2 pesos to one U.S. dollar. Since the government of Argentina manipulates its currency to stay proportional to the dollar, I would not expect this to change any time soon.

Chemin de Fer

In Spanish they call this game Punto y Banco (player and banker). To avoid confusion when writing about baccarat, and any of its variants, I capitalize the bets of Player and Banker, and use the lower case when referring to the people playing the game.

This is the European way of playing baccarat, so one person at the table acts as the Banker and bets against everybody else at the table. The only bet on the table is on the Player. If you are banking then, by default, you are betting on the Banker.

The drawing rules are the same as in baccarat, except the player making the largest wager on the Player has the free will to stand or take another card with a total of 5. The Banker is forced to play by the conventional drawing rules for baccarat. The odds favor hitting on the 5, as is forced in baccarat.

The turn to bank rotates around the table. The player acting as banker gets to do so until a Player win. The banker has to pay a 10% commission to the casino on Banker wins every other hand. I assume that the commission is paid on the even-numbered Banker wins; otherwise, it wouldn't be fair, and smart players would refuse to act as the banker if the first win necessitated paying the commission.

Oasis Poker

Oasis Poker is the same thing as Caribbean Stud Poker, except the addition of an option to discard one card before the fold/raise decision for a price equal to the Ante wager. It is often called some variation of "Caribbean" poker. In the case of the Casino Puerto Madero, they call it "Poker con Descarte," which means "Poker with Discard."

Under optimal strategy, the house edge is 1.04%. This is much less than the normal 5.22% of Caribbean Stud, thanks to the option to discard. For more information about when to switch and raise, please follow the link above for Oasis Poker.

Craps

There is only one table which was extremely crowded when I was there. It was also the only place in either ship with the least bit of excitement.

  • The player may take 3X odds.
  • The field bet is the stingy kind, paying 2 to 1 on both the 2 and the 12.

Three Card Poker

They follow the usual 1-4-5 Ante Bonus pay table, and the Pairplus is 1-4-6-25-40, which is better than the usual US 1-3-6-30-40 pay table. The house edge on the Ante bet is 3.37% and on the Pairplus is 3.49%.

Texas Hold 'Em

According to signage, the casino opened its poker room shortly before my visit. It was a fairly large room with six tables. As is usual with poker, the vast majority of players were men. Some lonely looking women were sitting outside the room, waiting for their male companions to finish playing. All games were no-limit. Depending on the table, the blinds were 5-10, 10-20, or 25-50 pesos. Remember, the exchange rate at the time was 4.2 pesos per dollar. The rake is 5%, without limit.

Slots

As far as I could tell there were two types of "slots," the usual video slots and roulette machines. I put "slots" in quotes because the term has changed to mean any kind of game with an electrical plug and no dealer. The video slots were the same type you would see in the United States, but about five years ago. There were no modern machines with huge signs and video screens. There was an entire floor on one boat devoted to electronic roulette.

Slot Club

In the foyer of the facade building, there is a desk to sign up for a player card. As near as I can tell, it is only useful to slot players. Signage indicated gifts the player could exchange his points for.

Drinks

Sorry, pal, the drinks are on you. There is a small bar on each floor of the table game ship should you need a libation, at your expense. A cocktail waitress also comes by once in a long while to take requests, which you pay her directly for.

Summary

After checking into my hotel, I asked the front desk clerk how to get to the casino. He replied, "I couldn't help but notice you are from Las Vegas when you checked in. So, with the best casinos in the world right at home, why would you ever want to play here?" After my visit to the Casino Puerto Madero, I understood what he meant.

The Casino Puerto Madero would be a fine place to play if you just want to be left alone to play. If you are looking for Las Vegas fun with Monte Carlo elegance, which the ads would lead one to believe exist there, you will be sadly disappointed. The greater Buenos Aires area has a population of 13 million people. The fact that this is the best they can do when it comes to a casino I find kind of sad. Based on my previous trip to Latin America, they would do well to take some lessons from Panama on making their casinos more fun.

Trilenium

Tigre is an affluent neighborhood on the north edge of the greater Buenos Aires area. It is accessible by two different trains, including the Coastal Train. Tigre's casino is called the Trilenium. You can find it located near an amusement park, at the last stop of the Coastal Train. According to the World Casino Directory, the Trilenium casino has the greatest number of slot machines in South America. In case you were wondering, the casino with the greatest number of table games is the Casino Mar del Plata, about 200 miles south of Buenos Aries. I didn't have a chance to visit it.

The Trilenium casino is in a large, three-story building. From the exterior, the building is nondescript. If it were not for the sign, I would have never taken it for a casino. Inside the casino has three floors, the bottom two house slots and the top was mostly table games.

The bottom two floors were modern, clean, and had mostly current video slots. At the time I was there, about 5:00 PM on a Thursday, it was very quiet, with no music. Once in a while the silence was shattered by an absolutely horrid PA system. About 5% of the machines were being played. What few players I saw were very busy playing and looked like they didn't want to be disturbed.

While the lower two slot floors looked nice, remodeling work evidently had not made it to the third floor for table games. While the third-floor section for slots is okay, the majority of the third floor is dedicated to table games. That part is as drab as a warehouse. Just a big room, in all three dimensions, with nothing visually attractive to look at. On the floor are just lots of table games, fairly spread out. They still have plenty of room to spare, giving the place an empty feel.

The players on the table game floor were almost all men and looked like they had been playing non-stop for at least a day. This was a place to be left alone to gamble. If the building were on fire, I think they would have difficulty getting the players to leave.

The games offered at the Trilenium are:

  • Blackjack
  • Roulette
  • Chemin de Fer
  • Craps
  • Three Card Poker
  • Texas Hold 'Em
  • Slots
  • Video Poker

As with the Puerto Madero, roulette is indisputably king.

Here are details on each one.

Roulette

Single zero.

Blackjack

They deal a strange set of rules at Tigre, as follows:

  • 8 decks, hand shuffled at about the 6.5-deck point.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17.
  • Dealer does not take a hole card. Player loses only original bet against dealer blackjack.
  • Double on 10 and 11 only.
  • Double after split — NO.
  • Surrender --NO.
  • Re-splitting aces — NO.
  • 10 and Ace after splitting (tens or aces) counts as blackjack.
  • Blackjack tie pays 1 to 2.

The table limits were 20-600 pesos at the table I played. I forgot to note the limits at the other tables.

One very strange rule is if the dealer has an ace up, he requires a decision on insurance be made based on just one player card. I tried to ask the supervisor why they didn't let the player see both his cards before making this decision, but he didn't know and was just following the house rules. A reader suggested it had something to do with the rule about a blackjack tie paying 1 to 2, but I still see what that would have to do with it.

The house edge under these rules is 0.46%. In case you were wondering, the rule about a ten and ace paying 3 to 2 after splitting is worth 0.19%, and the rule about a blackjack tie paying 1 to 2 is worth 0.11%. Without these unusual rules the house edge under would be 0.76%.

Craps

  • 2X odds on the 4 and 10, 3X on the 5 and 9, and 4X on the 6 and 8. Very strange.
  • Easy hops pay 15 to 1 and hard hops pay 31 to 1. Again, very unusual.
  • The stingy field, paying 2 to 1 on both the 2 and 12.

Three Card Poker

They call it "Central Poker Three." They follow the old "full pay" rules, paying 1-4-5 on the Ante Bonus and 1-4-6-30-40 on the Pairplus. This results in a house edge of 3.37% on the Ante and 2.32% on the Pairplus.

Chemin de Fer

Same rules as at the Puerto Madero (see above).

Texas Hold 'Em

  • Blinds of 5/10 or 10/20 pesos, depending on the table.
  • No limit, with a max bet of 200 pesos.
  • No rake, but players must pay 70 pesos for each two hours of play.
  • Video Poker

    There was a bank of about ten 1-peso (24¢ US) triple-play machines on the second floor. The first column in the following table shows the games available, the second column shows the pay table, and the third shows the return, based on optimal strategy.

    Trilenium Video Poker

    Game Pay Table Return
    Jacks or Better 7-5 96.15%
    Bonus Poker Deluxe 7-5 96.25%
    Double Bonus 9-6 96.38%
    Double Double Bonus 8-5 96.79%
    Deuces Wild 16-13 96.77%

    Pretty bad, but at least they are consistently bad.

    Slot Club

    None, as far as I could tell.

    Cocktail Service

    I'm not sure what the official policy is. There were several cocktail waitresses, mostly standing around, chatting with each other. Sometimes you would see one delivering a drink to another part of the casino but nobody ever came to take requests at my table. Eventually I asked the supervisor about it, and he immediately summoned one over. It took a while, but she eventually came back with my requested beer, along with a receipt for one centavo. Since I tipped her 250 centavos, I think she let the fee slide.

    Then the supervisor was falling all over himself trying to offer a drink to my lovely guide, who wasn't even playing. I think she was the only woman on the entire floor, let alone an attractive one, so I couldn't really blame him for trying.

    Smoking Policy

    Smoking is unfortunately allowed on the third floor for table games. Not only is it allowed, but everybody seems to invoke their right to do so, and the ventilation is terrible. I forgot to inquire about the smoking rules on the first two floors, but the air quality seemed much better there.

    Summary

    The first two slot machine floors of the Trilenium casino were fine. The third floor is another world, in a bad way.

    To compare it to the Puerto Madero casino, it is better for slots but worse for table games. However, at least I got a free drink in Tigre, unlike at the Puerto Madero. Since Tigre is so far from downtown Buenos Aires, I can't think of any compelling reason for a tourist to go there.

    Puerto Iguazu

    Puerto Iguazú is a small town near the world-famous Iguazú Falls. It has two casinos, one at the Iguazú Grand and the other at the Panoramic Hotel Iguazú. If I'm not mistaken, they are both owned by the same company. I'm embarrassed to say that when I was there I thought there was only one casino, the one at the Panoramic, which is the only one I went to.

    Iguazu Grand

    Again, I can't believe I was in Puerto Iguazú and didn't know about this casino, so I'm going to have to just tell you what I gathered from their web site.

    The Iguazú Grand features:

    • 34 table games, including roulette, blackjack, baccarat, poker (I assume Caribbean Stud Poker), craps, and Texas Hold 'Em.
    • 200 "modern" slots.
    • 2 VIP rooms.

    Open hours:

    • Monday to Thursday: 6 p.m. to 5 a.m..
    • Weekends: Friday: 2 p.m. to 6 a.m ..
    • Saturday: 11 a.m. to 6 a.m..
    • Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 a.m..

    Panoramic Hotel Iguazu

    This is one of the nicer small casinos I have ever seen. It has about 100 slot machines and four table games. The four table games were blackjack, Texas Hold 'Em Bonus, Caribbean Stud, and Texas Hold 'Em. It was only open at night. I don't recall the exact hours, but roughly 5 p.m. to 2 a.m..

    The blackjack rules were standard for what you might find in the US:

    • Six decks — hand shuffled.
    • Dealer stands on soft 17
    • Dealer takes hole card and peeks for blackjack.
    • Double after split allowed.
    • No surrender.
    • No re-splitting aces.

    The house edge under these rules is 0.43%.

    The Panoramic was very quiet on a Thursday night when I arrived. Not counting myself, there was just one other table game player. I played some blackjack and the two dealers I had were both stone cold brick walls, with not so much as a single word. The slots were barely touched as well. However, two nights later, on a Saturday, the place was full and lively.

    Punta del Este — Uruguay

    For a small country, Uruguay has lots of casinos. The pricey beach resort of Punta del Este has three, including the largest casino in Uruguay, the Conrad. This is many orders of magnitude nicer than the large casinos I saw in Argentina.

    Conrad

    Both the Conrad hotel and casino are very elegant and classy. Prices for a standard room run from $230 in the winter to $600 in the summer, and that is in US dollars! The casino is evidently separately managed by Caesars Entertainment.

    The casino is extravagant, without being over the top in a Vegas kind of way. There is more of a Monte Carlo look and feel to it. Unlike the casinos in Argentina, they play music and have very lovely South American cocktail waitresses delivering free drinks. When I was there, the central bar had some kind of private event going on, I think a slot tournament, which looked fun. Signage indicated lots of other promotions.

    It is not unusual in Uruguay for prices to be in US dollars. The casino was entirely based on the US dollar. There was a cage to change currencies, which many people were doing, despite no posted exchange rates. Here are the games they offered:

    Roulette

    As in Argentina, roulette is king in Uruguay, although not by the huge majority in Buenos Aires. As usual, all games were single-zero.

    Blackjack

    Blackjack closely falls behind roulette, I would say. The rules were:

    • Six decks, with continuous shuffler.
    • Dealer hole card, and peeked for blackjack.
    • Dealer stands on soft 17
    • Double after split — Yes.
    • Surrender — No.
    • Re-splitting aces — No.

    The house edge under these rules is 0.43%.

    The lowest limit table I could find was $15 - $500. There were higher limit tables. At one of them, two young guys were betting with purple ($500) and yellow ($1000) chips. At my table, the other players were often betting black chips ($100) chips. One player bet the max $500 almost every hand. I was the flea at the table betting $15 a hand only.

    Although the dealers didn't say much, they had a way of making the game more fun, like slowly turning over the cards at times to make it more dramatic, and generally running a fast, clean game. Unlike in Argentina, where players just sat there and silently played, the players at the Conrad were chatting with each other and having a good time. Definitely a fun place to play.

    Craps

    • 2X odds.
    • 15 and 30 to 1 on the hops.
    • Stingy field, paying 2-1 on the 2 and 12.

    Oasis Poker

    I described this variant of Caribbean Stud, where the player can switch a card, in my section above on the Puerto Madero casino.

    Baccarat

    Standard rules.

    Siete y Media

    This is a blackjack variant I have vaguely heard of but had never seen before. Translated to "seven and a half," it is most closely related to blackjack. You can read all about it in my new page on Siete y Media.

    Texas Hold 'Em

    There was a nice poker room with ten tables, one of which was open on the Monday Night I was there. The rules of that one table were:

    • $3/$6 blinds
    • No limit
    • 5% rake, without limit (ouch!)
    • Signage indicated that Omaha was also offered, I guess at busier times.

    Slots

    The casino was pretty much divided into a slots side and a table game side. The slots were mostly very modern video slots.

    Video Keno

    I copied down the pay tables. When I got home, I determined the return was about 88%, which is quite stingy.

    Video Poker

    There was one bank of video poker, on Game King machines at the $1 and $5 denomination. The first column in the following table shows the games available, the second column shows the pay table, and the third shows the return, based on optimal strategy.

    Conrad Video Poker

    Game Pay Table Return
    Jacks or Better 6-5 95.00%
    Bonus Poker 10-8-5-3-1-1 94.18%
    Double Bonus 7-5 93.11%
    Double Double Bonus 6-5 94.66%

    Ouch again! That is some of the worst video poker I've ever seen.

    Hopefully the slot director won't be promoted to general casino manager; otherwise, expect them to start hitting a soft 17 in blackjack, or much worse, the dreaded 6 to 5 games.

    Overall, the Conrad is one of the best casinos I've ever seen in the world, and I've been to casinos on five continents. The blackjack rules are still good, but judging by the video keno and video poker, I would stay away from anything with an electrical plug.

    Nogaro

    If you're looking for something smaller and more quiet than the Conrad, the Nogaró casino in Punta del Este is a good choice. It is located very close to the famous dedos (fingers) on the east side of the peninsula. The exterior of the building is rather boring. The interior is rather plain as well, having all the charm of a bank. However, the staff are all quite formal, including tuxedo-clad dealers.

    Much like the Conrad, all games were played with chips based on U.S. currency. Following are the games offered:

    Roulette

    Single zero.

    Blackjack

    • Six decks, from a continuous shuffler.
    • Dealer stands on soft 17.
    • Dealer does not take a hole card. Player loses total amount bet against dealer blackjack.
    • Double after split — Yes.
    • Surrender — No.
    • Re-split aces allowed — No.
    • Draw to split aces allowed! I have not seen that rule in years in a legitimate blackjack game.

    The house edge under these rule is 0.30%.

    Chemin de Fer

    As mentioned above, they call this game Punta y Banca. The rules are the same as at the Puerto Madero casino mentioned above.

    Texas Hold 'Em

    • $1/$2 blinds.
    • No limit.
    • I'm not sure what the percentage on the rake is, but the max is $3 per pot.

    Slots

    A separate room had modern video slots.

    I'm told the same company has another small casino elsewhere in Punta del Este that has all the games above plus craps.

    I played blackjack for about half an hour. There was only one other player in the entire table game room; he was playing roulette. The dealer and supervisor were very patient with my questions, which I posed in very broken Spanish. They also offer free drinks.

    Overall, I was treated very nicely at the Nogaró. However, given I was one of only two players, they certainly had the manpower to attend to my many questions. While this can't compare to the size and excitement of the Conrad, it is a nice alternative. Here I'm sure you'll get more personal attention and won't get lost in the crowd.

    Other Pages from the Wizard's Argentina Trip