Gamers looking for poker in the beautiful tropical setting of Costa Rica are in luck. It’s a popular pastime in the country with a long history of legal gambling, unlike some other territories.
Online gambling is, relatively speaking, underdeveloped in Costa Rica, meaning that locals looking for a game of cards (or anything else for that matter) have to visit local rooms and casinos to indulge themselves. Add in a healthy amount of tourism and casinos that cater to them and cards players have options.
Costa Rica’s gambling laws and regulations
In Costa Rica the regulation of casinos and gaming stretches back to 1922, with the last major overhaul taking place in 1997, so this is a country with an established tradition of gambling. By 1999 there were 21 casinos in the country and by 2006 that figure had more than doubled to 46, which is roughly where the number sits today.
Originally the laws around casinos and gaming were all designed with tourism in mind, with hotels permitted to host casinos and the number of slots and tables allowed dependant on the number of stars a hotel carried (the majority have around 50 and 100 slot machines and roughly six table games). This legal set up is the reason that the majority of Costa Rican gaming facilities are based around the most well-known beaches, with the remainder established in the country’s capital, San Jose.
The legal framework was shaken up, however, with revised regulations – the so-called ‘Law on Casino Taxation’ introduced in 2008. It covered both casinos and betting call centers in Costa Rica and stipulated that only hotels rated at four stars or above are able to house casinos.
But what about the poker?
A lot of the poker action is centered on the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. It used to be a little like the wild west in terms of the games played there, with fast and loose play sometimes resulting in some big wins off relatively small games, but the scene has settled down a little now. You’re unlikely to find anything at the standard of WSOP 2019, but the various games still tend to be lively and able players can do well.
The rooms in San Jose tend to move fast, however, so visitors will do well to make sure they are prepared for the competitive environment through practicing various poker games before their visit. In San Jose, the main poker rooms are Del Rey, which has two tables and bi-monthly tournaments; Irazu, with four tables; Sheraton, with four tables and monthly freeroll tournaments; Taormina, again with four tables but with weekly tournaments. Beyond those rooms, players should note the Europa Casino, though that game tends to break early and the Horseshoe Casino across the road from Del Rey.
Costa Ricans are typically quite friendly and tend to speak English, so the local scene is relatively welcoming. There are probably around a thousand serious players in the city, though they won’t always have enough bankroll to play regularly.
Many of the rooms offer promotions, although they also take extra cash from the pot so that they can fund those promotions. The promotions tend to be similar – a high hand of the night promotion is common, as is a cash prize for getting certain hands (quads or more), or sometimes a bad beat jackpot will be on offer.
Costa Rica used to have a reputation as having the best dealers in Central America. While anecdotal evidence suggests that the standards might have slipped somewhat over the last few years, you’re still going to find them to be very solid and, more often than not, very friendly. Likewise, poker room managers are usually very welcoming and courteous, treating their players well and good at keeping the peace over any disputes that arise.
The future promises big things
A particular piece of news that piqued the poker world’s interest last year was the announcement of a new hotel and casino resort scheduled to be built in 2019 for the cool sum of $400 million. Located in the village of Moin in the Limon Province at the entry to the Tortuguero Canals, the new facility will be dubbed Casino City Caribe. The project is being led by Vancouver architect Patti Rao through his firm Patti Rao Project.
The complex will comprise three hotels with a total of 264 rooms, 219 apartments, two convention and cultural centers, a marina and helipad, a wellness center and spa, a business center, an entertainment center and three casinos. It’s expected that the construction will create some 150 jobs through construction and as many as 1,500 once the whole resort is up and running. Construction is expected to take place in three phases, with the final one scheduled to wrap up in 2027.
Rao told the local press that Moin was selected because it was seen as an area with untapped tourism potential, particularly within the ecotourism segment. This lines up, of course, with the inclusion of casinos that will be looking to attract poker and gaming dollars.
Should you visit?
While poker in Costa Rica might not offer the same quality of action that it used to, it still offers some good games and, for poker tourists, the added bonus of being one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
The capital, San Jose, offers three rooms with regular games and another three spots with more sporadic action, so there’s plenty to keep players occupied. Pot Limit Omaha, in particular, is well provided for and played at least a couple of times every week in a couple of the casinos. No Limit Hold ‘Em is a little tighter, but for good players, it’s still quite beatable. Though the rake can be a little punishing, the stakes are decent while players with a smaller bankroll are still catered for.
With Casino City Caribe on the way, not to mention the beach resorts with casinos that already offer some action, there’s plenty to make Costa Rica worth visiting.