Gambling in Malta
IntroductionMalta is a small island country south of Sicily. It is 122 square miles, which is about 80% larger in area than the District of Columbia, or 8% the size of Rhode Island. Since it's a hot spot for Internet gambling, I decided to pay a visit in February 2014. However, Malta also has a few land casinos, too, and this article is about them.
CasinosDespite what other websites say, as far as I can tell there are only three land casinos in Malta. One reason other sources indicate more of them is the word "casino" traditionally means a large room used for public meeting or entertainment. I think the usage as a place to gamble is relatively modern. The "casino" on Catalina Island was never for gambling, for example. Search engines will show these public gathering casinos in their list of casinos for Malta, or anywhere.
The two casinos I know of are the Dragonara and the Portomaso. Another one I didn't know about until after I returned home is the Oracle Casino, which is owned by the same company as the Portomaso, according to the website.
"What about the Casinò di Venezia?," you might ask. That place was shut down when I was there. The lights were off and the door was locked, with no signage about the reason. A dealer at another casino said the government shut them down for being a front for organized crime organizations. A claim I can't confirm or deny — just repeating what I was told.
The gambling age in Malta is 18, except locals must be 25. I've seen countries were locals were outright banned from casinos, like the Bahamas, but never a dual gambling age before.
The casinos themselves are small by US standards. If you were inside one you would have no idea you were in Malta. There are no windows or decor to suggest you are in southern Europe at all. Like other touristy spots that have casinos, but are not the main draw, the rules and odds are pretty standard. Limits are low and friendly. Most table games have a 5€ or 10€ minimum about about a 500 maximum. When I was there mid-week in February, the casinos were quiet and operating at about 10% of capacity.
Based on four trips to Europe, my basic strategy for how to dress is the further south you go, the more casual the dress code is. I don't think this is just attributable to southern Europe being hotter; it seems it's more casual attitude the further south you get as well.
That said, I'd say you can just “come as you are” to the casinos of Malta. Maybe shorts, tank top and flip flops would be going too far, but jeans and a nice t-shirt would be fine. I'd say the dress code is similar to what you would expect in Las Vegas.
The alcohol policy is the usual one in Europe: non-alcoholic drinks are free but expect to pay bar prices for anything with alcohol.
Smoking is not allowed inside the casinos (bravo!), except both casinos had enclosed slot rooms that allowed smoking. They seemed to do a good job keeping the smoke in the smoking room, as I couldn't detect it in the main casino.
Here is information about the two casinos I did visit.
DragonaraThis is the largest casino in Malta. It is part of the Westin Resort in the busy and modern Paceville part of the country. They have 18 table games surrounded by slot machines and a separate poker room. As I would expect of a Westin property, the casino was pretty upscale while still being friendly and casual.
Their table games were roulette, blackjack, Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em and Three Card Poker. As I recall, the blackjack minimums were 5€ and 10€, depending on the table. In Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em, the minimum on the Ante and Blind was 5€.
The poker room had two tables but only one was open. The game was no-limit Texas Hold 'Em. My friend played it and said the competition was very soft, with lots of overly-aggressive Italian players.
My only complaint was an overpowering smell of cleaning products. I would recommend drinking a lot of water while there, or anything else, to prevent the taste of the air from building up in your mouth.
PortomasoThe Portomaso is also located in the Paceville part of Malta. This casino is not as upscale as the Dragonara and was nearly void of customers when I was there.
By my count, there were 12 table games as follows:
- 6 roulette
- 4 blackjack
- 1 Punto Banco (baccarat)
- 1 Ultimate Texas 'Em
Their website says they also have Three Card Poker, but I didn't notice it.
My friends and I had to ask a supervisor to open a blackjack table, and the dealer he found was not happy at all to have to do it. Very grumpy and cold.
At one point, he had a blackjack and proceeded to hit it with another card, a 2. He then realized his error and put the 2 back in the shoe. I told him I didn't want it and requested he burn it. He said, "No, the next card is that 2." According to my blackjack appendix 14, I had a 13% disadvantage with a 2 as my first card so I colored up and walked away. Too bad it wasn't a ten or ace, as I would have bet everything.
By the way, in Vegas the usual policy is to never back up cards. In this case, the 2 would have been burned.
There were also one or two poker tables and slots along the perimeter.
Casino GamesAs typical in Europe, roulette is the most popular game in Malta. They follow the usual European rules where the wheel has one zero only and even money bets lose half if the ball lands in zero.
The house edge is 1.35% on even money bets and 2.70% on all others.
BlackjackThe blackjack rules in Malta are almost the same in the United Kingdom. The only difference is re-splitting aces is not allowed in Malta. To be specific, the rules are:
- 6 to 8 decks.
- Dealer stands on soft 17.
- Dealer does not take a hole card.
- If player doubles and/or splits and the dealer gets a blackjack, then the player will lose everything.
- No surrender.
- Double after splitting allowed.
- Re-splitting aces not allowed.
- About 75% penetration.
According to my blackjack house edge calculator (/games/blackjack/calculator/), the house edge under these rules, and assuming six decks, is 0.53%.
The basic strategy is the same as for UK rules, as follows.
Minimum bets are usually 5 or 10 Euros. The maximum will usually be about 250 to 500 Euros.
Other Table GamesStandard rules are followed.
Video PokerLike the rest of Europe, video poker is not very popular in Malta. I found only a couple 0.25€ Joker Poker machines at the Portomaso casino. The following table shows the return following optimal strategy. The lower right cell shows a return of 87.25%, which is about the lowest I have ever seen for video poker anywhere.
Malta Joker Poker
|Natural royal flush||1000||47,599,804||0.000023||0.023249|
|Five of a kind||100||187,077,901||0.000091||0.009137|
|Wild royal flush||40||158,294,698||0.000077||0.003093|
|Four of a kind||15||16,768,361,164||0.008190||0.122851|
|Three of a kind||2||255,210,558,202||0.124651||0.249301|