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Last Updated: April 29, 2014
Gambling in the Dominican Republic
IntroductionAccording to the LCB, the Dominican Republic's 34 casinos are the most of any country in the Caribbean. It also has the second largest casino in the Caribbean (the Hard Rock in Punta Cana). The Atlantis in the Bahamas is the largest.
In April 2014, I spent a week in the Dominican Republic, specifically Santo Domingo and Punta Cana. This is my report about the casino scene in those two Dominican cities. The difference is like night and day between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, so I will address them separately.
TransportationLet me also say a word about transportation. The Santo Domingo airport is located about 20 miles from the center of the city. I read on another website there was a bus service you could find on the second floor of the airport. However, I looked everywhere and asked several people about taking a bus or shuttle to the center of Santo Domingo and everybody looked at me as if it was the most radical idea they had ever heard. So, I had no choice but to cough up about $40 for a cab ride.
To get to Punta Cana from Santo Domingo, I took a nice air-conditioned bus through a company called Espreso Bavaro. They have departures every couple hours. The only downside is that I'm 99.54% I got screwed by the cab driver taking me the short distance from my hotel to the bus station.
By comparison to the rundown Santo Domingo airport, the airport in Punta Cana is magnificent. If I lived in the DR, I might be jealous that the government built a nice airport for the gringos while most of the locals have to suffer the dilapidated one in the capital. There were plenty of hotel shuttles parked just outside of customs. Why hasn't anybody thought to offer this service at the Santo Domingo airport except, evidently, me?
Santo Domingo OverviewBefore getting to the casinos, let me say something about the city itself. The Dominican Republic claims to be the first country in the "new world" that Columbus set foot on (a claim that the Bahamas also makes). There is no doubt that Columbus lived there for a time and established Santo Domingo as the first European colonial city in the western hemisphere. The Dominican Republic also claims to be home to the remains of Columbus (a claim also made by Spain).
Today the colonial section of Santo Domingo, which is conveniently close to where cruise ships anchor, is home to lots of restored 500-year-old buildings, including the home of Columbus. This area seems safe, with plenty of police and security guards patrolling. However, there are still a lot of annoyances. If you look anything like me (i.e. have a neon light over your head flashing "gringo"), then expect people to come out of the woodwork offering to give you a taxi ride, give you a tour, help you find whatever you're looking for, take you to a "fun place," or just come right out and ask for money.
There were no cruise ships in port during my first full day in Santo Domingo, so I was besieged everywhere I went. It was exasperating fighting everybody off. I wonder if the president feels this kind of negative attention his last few days in office, which is the time he is expected to hand out pardons like the Easter bunny hands out eggs.
Fortunately my second day, there was a cruise ship in town. With many other gringos to share the pain, I could walk about without being the center of unwanted attention. If you ever find yourself on a cruise ship stopping in Santo Domingo, I recommend walking down the pedestrian street of Calle el Conde. Take in as many historical buildings as you are in the mood for. They generally charge 100 pesos (apx $2.50) for a ticket, including audio guide. No, there are no casinos in the colonial section.
Casinos of Santo DomingoThe World Casino Directory lists six casinos with table games. Based on personal observations, there are many more that are slots only. During my three days in Santo Domingo, I visited two casinos with table games and two smaller ones without. Based on my experience, the casinos of Santo Domingo attract almost entirely locals. Fortunately, I can speak Spanish well enough to make simple conversation, which was essential. Do not count on anybody in Santo Domingo casinos to speak English.
Every table game I played accepted both DR pesos as well as US dollars. Limits were generally low in both currencies, but lower in pesos. The table game mix was much like I've seen in Central America. Roulette and blackjack are a close tie between first and second place for the most popular table games. Far in third are craps, Three Card Poker and Caribbean Stud Poker, in no particular order. You are also likely to find one or two tables of no-limit Texas Hold 'Em at the larger casinos. Video slots and electronic table games make up about half the casino floor.
One thing I was pleasantly surprised by in Santo Domingo is the casinos not only offer free drinks to players but also free food! The way it seemed to work is gals would push around carts of food, for example a chicken dinner, and offer them to players. Not surprisingly, slot players seemed to get much more attention from the food gals than table game players.
Despite playing table games for a total of about eight hours, I never managed to get any free grub. I saw other players eating free food at the tables but am not quite sure how they did it. When I asked one player, he said to just ask a cocktail waitress for something. So, I asked a cocktail waitress for a sandwich, but she looked at me as if I asked for the hair off of a monkey's butt. I suspect those table game players eating were either friendly with somebody on the staff or were poaching food in the slot machine area.
Jaragua Hotel & Casino
This is where I stayed my three nights in Santo Domingo. The full name of the place is the Renaissance Santo Domingo Jaragua Hotel & Casino. I think it used to be a Marriott property, and it is incorrectly still listed as such by many hotel booking websites. The staff at the hotel were very nice and let me torture them with my awful Spanish without complaint. The property I'm sure at one time was quite nice, but when I was there it felt more than a little run down. In fact, one employee stated they were planning to undertake a major renovation shortly after my stay.
The property had a 24-hour casino on the main floor. It was my impression that most of the patrons were Santo Domingo locals. I also had the impression many of them knew each other. Despite being in a fairly upscale hotel not far from the US, I didn't encounter anybody speaking English. As near as I could tell, I was the only gringo in the place.
Here were the table games available on the main floor. The number of tables are in parenthesis.
- Blackjack (8)
- Roulette (7)
- Three Card Poker (2)
- Craps (1)
- Baccarat (1)
A separate room had two poker tables. Signage by the door looked foreboding, saying something like "invited guests only," but anybody could walk in and play. There was also a private high-limit room. I didn't dare go in, but was told it had blackjack and baccarat only. Following are rules and comments about the games offered.
BlackjackThe rules were as follows:
- Six decks -- approximately 75% penetration.
- Dealer stands on soft 17.
- Dealer does not take a hole card. If player doubles or splits and dealer gets a
- blackjack then player loses the original bet only.
- Double after split allowed.
- Early surrender allowed, except against ace.
- No re-splitting aces.
Following is the proper basic strategy for these rules.
The house edge under these rules is a low 0.19%.
The limits ranged from table to table, but the lowest they got were: $10-$500 or 200 to 3,000 pesos. At the time I was there, the fair exchange rate was about 40 to 1. So, the limits in pesos were the equivalent to about $5-$75. Why the disparity to the dollar limits, I don't know. Maybe they figure the Gringos can afford to bet more.
In the six hours I played, I can say that the caliber of play by the other players was awful. About the worst I've ever seen anywhere in the world. Frequently made errors were surrendering hands that were not that bad, like 12 against a 2, and splitting tens against strong dealer cards. I mentioned before a lot of the players seemed to know each other. Almost every time the dealer beat the whole table, a fault-finding investigation began among the victims. As the only gringo at the table every time, and the only one using proper basic strategy, I was usually pronounced guilty of jinxing the table at such times and was punished with the stink eye and nasty comments in Spanish they obviously assumed I didn't understand.
RouletteDouble-zero wheels. Players loses everything on even money bets if the ball lands in either zero.
Three Card PokerStandard 1-4-5 Ante Bonus pay table. The Pairplus followed the liberal 1-4-6-30-40 pay table (2.32%). By comparison, the American standard 1-3-6-30-40 pay table has a house edge of 7.28%.
Craps2x odds were allowed.
If you're just skimming this article, then slow down for a second. Let me remind you that in the US the hard ways pay 8 for 1 on the hard 4 and 10, and 10 for 1 on the hard 6 and 8. This is equivalent to paying 7 to 1 and 9 to 1 respectively. Let me also remind you that the any seven pays 5 for 1 in the US, which is equivalent to 4 to 1.
That said, when the felt for this craps table was created, something probably got lost in translation because offered the following odds:
- Hard 4, 10: 8 to 1
- Hard 6, 8: 10 to 1
- Any seven: 5 to 1
In other words, the word "for" got changed to "to," with no adjustment in the odds. This results in exactly a 0% house edge for all these bets. You might think they know this and actually pay 8, 10, and 5 FOR 1. No. I knew you guys would suspect that, as I did as well, so I played the game for about half an hour. I can confirm that the hard ways and any seven paid the fair odds indicated on the felt.
It isn't everyday you find a casino bet with no house edge, but the craps game at the Jaragua casino in Santo Domingo is one of those times. Dice influence believers should seize this opportunity while you can.
Sports BettingThere was a small area for betting sports, like a William Hill franchise in the US. The sports available to wager on were mostly US games, with an emphasis on baseball. Speaking of which, one thing that sets the Dominican Republic apart from most other Latin American countries is baseball is king, not soccer. The lines on point spreads and totals looked like consistently 20-cents, including on baseball money lines (for example, one game on the board was Marlins +140, Yankees -160). Below are a couple of scans of betting sheets I took home.
ProstitutionAn earlier version of this blog entry didn't address this topic, but a reader noticed the omission, compared to my reports on Panama and Costa Rica. I've heard the Dominican Republic was a hot spot for this occupation, but I didn't notice much of it.
On Avenida George Washington, the avenue that runs along the coast, I saw some young women in skimpy outfits but wasn't sure if they were advertising their services or just liked to dress that way. In the lounge of the Jaragua, I definitely noticed a few. They were just sitting at the bar nursing a drink and scanning for customers.
Let me warn you that as a gringo, once you make eye contact with any of them hey will stare and smile at you the rest of the night. Don't be surprised if they seem to make frequent excuses to walk passed you as well. The odds of them brushing their hair or boobs against you on such passes is about 60%. Otherwise, they wait for the man to make the first move.
Atlantis World — Crown Plaza
Right next door to the Jaragua is the Crown Plaza, which hosts the Dream Casino. This casino is about the same size as the Jaragua. I'm told the two casinos are the only two in the city with table games open 24 hours. Here is a list of their table game counts:
- Roulette (6)
- Blackjack (8)
- Caribbean Stud (1)
- Three Card Poker (3)
- Craps (1)
- Baccarat (4)
The rules and limits seemed the same as the Jaragua, except the Dream Casino hit on a soft 17 in blackjack, which increases the house edge by 0.21%.
As I recall, the craps table had the same layout as the Jaragua, paying fair odds on the hard ways and any seven. However, the table was closed when I visited on a busy Saturday night. It may be that it is always closed, due to lack of play.
There were also two poker tables in the main casino, one of which was open when I was there.
To compare the Jaragua and Dream Casino, I think the former was more noisy and energetic.
Although being right next door, walking between the two was no fun in my case. Young men from Haiti will pounce on anybody looking like a gringo and aggressively ask to shine your shoes or just ask for money outright. One guy dove in front of me with a shoe cleaning brush and polish, despite the fact I was wearing running shoes and my many verbal refusals. I had to quickly jump out of the way to avoid stepping on him.
Punta CanaIt is hard to believe that Punta Cana is in the same country as Santo Domingo. What you can expect in Punta Cana is one luxurious beach resort after another. They are all on a beautiful white sandy beach on the east coast of the country. As near as I can tell, there isn't really a city of Punta Cana. The resorts are supposed to have everything that the guest could want, so there isn't much reason to go off property.
The only casino I saw in Punta Cana was at the Hard Rock. I'm told the other resorts also have their own casinos, but the Hard Rock has the biggest. In fact, the Punta Cana Hard Rock casino is the second largest in the Caribbean, second only the Atlantis in the Bahamas. Judging by the casino at the Hard Rock, it would be hard to tell you weren't in the United States, except the complexion of the casino staff. As for the players, as well as the Hard Rock patrons in general, I haven't seen such a high percentage of gringos since the last time I went to a Tea Party rally. The casino was big, roughly the size of the Treasure Island in Las Vegas or a bit smaller. It had two table game pits, a large high-limit room, a four-table poker room, a huge sports book, and a nightclub. As a Hard Rock property, they were obviously catering to a younger crowd. The table game count, not counting the high limit room was as follows:
- Blackjack: 11
- Roulette: 4
- Craps: 2
- Three Card Poker: 2
- Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em: 1
- Let it Ride: 1
- Caribbean Stud Poker: 1
The high limit room offered the following:
- Blackjack: 4
- Baccarat: 2
- Roulette: 1
Most tables accepted US currency only. A couple also accepted Dominican pesos. Table limits were what you might expect at a Strip casino: $10 minimum, at least, in blackjack and $5 on other games. The player club offered $5 in free play for every 2,000 points earned. I believe it takes $1 in play to get one point, which would equate to a rate of 0.25%. When I was there, they offered $20 in free slot play for new members, which is quite generous. They were also offering a promotion for a t-shirt with four hours of table game play. You can check on other promotions at the casino website. I don't recall the casino hours, but they opened the doors about 10 AM and stayed open until about 5 AM. The table games were open from roughly 5 PM to 5 AM. Although the casino seemed to strive to be as American in style as possible, one difference is that they put a big emphasis on security at the expense of friendliness. The floor supervisors and security guards all looked like the kind you might find at a Vegas Strip Club -- professional, well-spoken, but not the kind of men you would joke around with or wish to get angry. Once I tried to sneak a cup of coffee in the poker room, under the excuse that it was supposed to be an "all-inclusive" resort, but was sternly rebuked for doing so and warned not to do it again.
The dealers were also generally serious but not quite as uptight as the floor supervisors. As anywhere, some were nicer than others. One dealer I had seemed very angry about something. Whenever I lost he slapped my chips in the tray, as if to spike the ball. When I won he tossed the chips my way. These are both passive-aggressive moves I've seen before from dealers with an attitude problem. When I got up to leave the dealer said in a very sarcastic way, "It was my pleasure to serve you!"
Suffice it to say, I think the Hard Rock casino could stand to be a lot friendlier. The only members of the staff who smiled were the cocktail waitresses, the representative I encountered at the Player Club, and the casino manger I met in the high limit room (who was from the UK). The cocktail waitresses could stand to teach the rest of the casino staff a thing or two about customer service.
Following are comments about the various games offered.
BlackjackThe blackjack rules were what one might see in the US, as follows:
- Six decks
- Dealer peeks for blackjack
- Double after split allowed
- Surrender not allowed
- Re-splitting aces not allowed
The house edge under these rules is 0.43%.
Please note that whenever I indicate blackjack rules it is implied that blackjacks pay 3-2. To pay less, generally 6-5, is a sucker game and does not deserve to be called "blackjack." I have yet to see a dreadful 6-5 game anywhere outside the United States, but give it time.
Three Card PokerThe American-standard stingy 1-3-6-30-40 Pairplus pay table was followed (7.28% house edge).
PokerThe poker room had four tables. When the room was open, one or two tables would be open. All games were no-limit Hold 'Em in my experience. The blinds were usually $1/$2.
The rake was 10% up to $8 (ouch!).
Video PokerThe video poker was tight. Here are the games and pay tables on one Game Maker machine I chose at random:
Game Maker Pay Tables — Hard Rock Punta Cana
|Jacks or Better||6/5||7/5||7/5|
|Double Double Bonus||7/5||8/5||9/5|
|Double Bonus Poker Plus||7/5||8/5||8/5|
Game Maker Returns — Hard Rock Punta Cana
|Jacks or Better||95.00%||96.15%||96.15%|
|Double Double Bonus||95.71%||96.79%||97.87%|
|Double Bonus Poker Plus||95.43%||96.49%||96.49%|
Bar Top Pay Tables — Hard Rock Punta Cana
|Jacks or Better||6/5||6/5||7/5||8/5|
|Double Double Bonus||6/5||6/5||7/5||8/5|
|Double Bonus Poker Plus||6/5||6/5||7/5||8/5|
|Triple Bonus Poker Plus||n/a||n/a||n/a||7/5|
Game Maker Pay Tables — Hard Rock Punta Cana
|Jacks or Better||95.00%||95.00%||96.15%||97.30%|
|Double Double Bonus||94.66%||94.66%||95.71%||96.79%|
|Double Bonus Poker Plus||94.37%||94.37%||95.43%||96.49%|
|Triple Bonus Poker Plus||n/a||n/a||n/a||97.67%|
In case you've never heard of Double Bonus Poker Plus, you're not alone. I had never heard of it either when I was there. The link will take you to my analysis of it, which I did when I got back home.
Video KenoHere is the pay table from a Caveman Keno game from a randomly chosen Game King machine. The return is in the bottom row.
25¢ Caveman Keno — Hard Rock Punta Cana
To put it in comparison, these returns are quite stingy.