(Pictured) One wager that's a sure thing in the Caribbean is the beautiful scenery
Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya, Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama," sang The Beach Boys in their iconic tune Kokomo. In many Caribbean destinations, however, it's more likely that you will hear, "I'll see you, and raise you," or "let it ride."
When most think of the Caribbean, white-sand beaches, exotic cultures, and tropical settings come to mind. Add casino gaming to that. Aruba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, are just a few of the many destinations that offer impressive casinos.
Gaming is an important offering in the incentive programs planned by Lynne McNamara, the owner of South Kingstown, RI-based Meetings Plus Events. "I just got an email from a client who said he wants to go to a Caribbean destination this year with a nice beach and gaming," says McNamara. "It's a hot button."
Steve Norton, chairman and CEO, Norton Management Gaming and Hospitality Specialists based in Alton, IL, and a founding director of the American Gaming Association, has his finger on the pulse of the industry. "A casino is a great amenity as it helps to keep occupancy up and makes it competitive with other destinations although it is not the panacea it once was," he explains.
The region's biggest casino is in the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas. That is, until the casino at Baha Mar finally opens on Nassau's Cable Beach. When it opens, it is expected to have 125 table games and more than 1,140 slot machines, as well as four new hotels (along with the existing and open Melia Nassau Beach), a golf course and more than 40 restaurants and bars.
When that opening will happen became a little more uncertain on June 29, when Baha Mar's chairman and CEO announced that the firm plans to go through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Citing "the financial consequences of the repeated delays by the general contractor," Sarkis Izmirlian said the resort hired more than 2,000 staff based on promises that construction would be finished in time for a May 27 grand opening, and has been paying them ever since.
There is 60,000 square feet of gaming at Atlantis, including the main Atlantis Casino, which feature bright, colorful glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. Other options include Sea Glass, which combines a lobby bar with gaming tables, and a small outdoor collection of black jack and craps tables by the Cain at the Cove pool area.
One of the leading gaming destinations in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has 18 casinos in Punta Cana and 12 in Santo Domingo. These include the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, which has 45,000 square feet of gaming space and 450 slot machines.
Jamaica will soon be able to compete with other Caribbean destinations with casinos as two major luxury resort developments that include gaming are in the works. Last month, the government approved two large, upscale resort projects, with major casino components, Harmony Cove and Celebration Jamaica Resort & Casino. Both will eventually have more than 2,000 rooms.
Aruba's casinos offer standard table games such as blackjack, roulette, poker, craps, and baccarat, but especially Caribbean Stud Poker, a casino game that originated there. McNamara recently visited Aruba as part of a destination familiarization trip sponsored by the CVB. "I never expected to find a casino in every hotel -- even The Ritz-Carlton," she says. "It's in such demand there. The casinos aren't large but are everywhere."
Aruba's largest casino is the Stellaris Casino located at the Aruba Marriott Resort, which is also home to the Tradewinds Club luxury resort-within-a-resort. The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino is located on 12 acres of beachfront property on Aruba's world-renowned Palm Beach. Its casino features 255 slot machines and 21 gaming tables, and a casino bar offering hand-rolled Cuban cigars and exotic drinks.
As territory of the United States, Puerto Rico has the added benefit of being the only Caribbean destination other that the U.S. Virgin Islands that does not require a passport. The island also offers many options for groups interested in gaming. Puerto Rico's El San Juan Resort & Casino, A Hilton Hotel, reopened its rebranded Royal Casino in March, after an extensive renovation that included installing state-of-the-art gaming technology. This comes two years after the resort, located on Isla Verde Beach, finished a major room renovation that also saw a renewed pool area and fitness center."
The Divi Carina Bay All-Inclusive Beach Resort & Casino on St. Croix, is the U.S. Virgin Islands' only casino. The resort also offers an array of amenities including 200 guest rooms, four dining venues, a full-service spa and two pools by a beach.