I recently took a trip to Panama City in the Republic of Panama to play some poker and was pleasantly surprised by both the quantity of games and the stakes being played. While not many casinos had poker, those that did had regular games of poker every night, with stakes ranging from $1/$2 to $25/$50.
The rake in Panama is excessive (5% of the pot, with a cap of $25). While the low percentage is great for tight games loaded with grinders, that is not the sort of game you will find in Panama!
Below is a quick summary of the three different casinos that offer poker in Panama City. Click any of the casino names to be taken directly to the more detailed write-up on that casino’s poker room.
Panama City is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Pamana, with a metro population of just over 1.4 million. The city has plenty of tourist attractions, the most notable of course being the Panama Canal. However, there is also:
- Amador Causeway: built from the dirt excavated during the building of the Panama Canal, and now a popular tourist destination
- Las Bóvedas (“The Vaults”): a waterfront promenade that juts out into the Pacific Ocean
- The National Institute of Culture Building and French Embassy across from it
- Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute: operate a small public museum
- The Cathedral at Plaza de la Catedral
- Teatro Nacional: a performance center with excellent acoustics with seating for 800
- Museo del Canal Interoceánico (“Interoceanic Canal Museum”)
- Biomuseo: a new museum designed by American architect Frank Gehry
- Palacio de las Garzas (Heron’s Palace): the presidential palace, named for the numerous herons that inhabit the building
Panama City is very modern, and recently completed a metro system that runs from the Albrook Mall through downtown to Los Andes.
There are plenty of hotels to choose from, but if you are planning to play lots of poker, you will want one close to the El Cangrejo region, which is where two of the casinos with poker are located (and relatively close to the third).
|Rating||Hotel Price Range|
|★★☆☆☆||$27 - $50 / night|
|★★★☆☆||$32 - $105 / night|
|★★★★☆||$70 - $220 / night|
|★★★★★||$160 - $190 / night|
Taxis are pretty cheap, but make sure you negotiate the rate before you get in (and ask the front desk of your hotel what the rate should be). If staying within El Cangrejo, you should be able to get a taxi to the Veneto and Sortis for $1.50, and maybe $3.00 to the Majestic. At night, the rates typically double.
Panama uses US currency, and it is a major world banking center. As a result, accessing your accounts is easy, and there are plenty of ATMs.
There is plenty of excellent dining in Panama City. Prices are very reasonable, and there is a wide variety of cuisine to choose from.
Poker in Panama City
Poker in Panama is pretty loose in general. Pre-flop raises typically range from 3-5 big blinds, and most flops are contested by 3-4 players. The players bluff frequently (and consequently call down with weak hands frequently). In Omaha, players will try to get all-in on the flop with just about any draw with 8 outs or more, and will NEVER fold a draw to the nut flush.
Panama Poker Players
Panamanians are not particularly extroverted, so do not expect much interaction with the locals. This is not to say that they are rude, they just tend to be shy towards people they do not know. However, there are always plenty of tourists in every game (except at the Majestic), and if you make the effort to get to know the locals, you will find them to be friendly and helpful.
Panama City Poker Staff
Panamanians are frequently rated as the happiest people on earth, which is odd considering that just about every person you meet that is working seems to be absolutely miserable! Panamanian poker dealers are no different – they give the impression that they hate their job. If you manage to get a dealer in Panama to crack a smile, then chances are they are from Venezuela, Colombia, or Costa Rica.
In addition to having no personality, the dealers and staff in Panama are incompetent as a general rule. Not only are they slow, but they frequently struggle to calculate side pots (and often forget that there is a side pot, and pull all the chips into the main pot). They rarely prompt the player whose turn it is, and almost never announce straddles and raises, forcing players to constantly ask how much the bet is to them.
By comparison, wait staff make the dealers look like world-class professionals. I frequently had to order the same drink 3 times before I received it, and once waited an hour to get a menu and a coke! Both the wait staff and dealers are utterly unapologetic for their incompetence. After waiting an hour to receive your drink, do not expect an apology of any sort. Instead, they will sullenly hand you your drink and then go right back to ignoring you!
Every poker room offers “free” food to their players. I say “free” because two of the poker rooms take money out of the pot (in addition to the rake) to offset this cost. The only room to offer truly free food is the Veneto.
Panama City Poker Jackpots
|Royal Flush||40% + 10% table||3% + 2% table||1%|
|Straight Flush||3% + 2% table||1%||1%|
|Four of a Kind||$50|
|Quads of the Day||$100|
If your Spanish is rusty, here are the payouts in English. In all cases, you must use both cards in your hand.
When I was there, the jackpot was around $22,000, so hitting a straight flush would be a nice boost to your winnings. However, it's not enough to justify making any changes to your play. That is, do not start calling raises with 53s or anything silly, or you will need to flop a royal just to recoup your losses!
Avenida Balboa al lado de Multicentro
The Majestic casino used to be the place to play poker in Panama City. However, it has fallen far from grace. The room has 11 tables, and they have the ability to host larger tournaments in the main casino, setting up 20-30 tables.
There is usually a game of $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em each night by 6pm, although sometimes they play a mixed game of No Limit Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha. They also frequently open a table of $2/$5 No Limit Hold’em by 9pm.
The Majestic holds tournaments every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, with buy-ins ranging from $30 to $50.
Unlike the other Panama City poker rooms, the Majestic rake is uncapped. They also charge $1 on every flop to pay for the “free” food, which is not nearly as good as the fare at both the Veneto and Sortis. The menu is rather limited, and the kitchen closes at midnight, even though the tables stay open until 5:30am.
56 & 57 East Street, Obarrio Bella Vista
The previous owner of the Veneto sold that casino so that he could build Sortis. This new casino has a huge poker room. In addition to the 8 tables for cash games, they have the ability to setup another 20-30 tables for tournaments. They also have a private room with 2 tables, where they play high stakes Omaha.
The first table typically opens around 6:30pm, and the game usually starts as $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em, but eventually becomes $5/$5 Pot Limit Omaha. Around 9pm, a table of $5/$10 Pot Limit Omaha sometimes gets started. Currently, these games are struggling, and are typically short-handed.
The big draw for Sortis is the nightly game of $25/$50 Pot Limit Omaha in the VIP room. This game usually starts off with a $2,000 minimum buy-in, but the game frequently escalates. One night while I was there, the game ran for 36 hours and by the 24-hour mark, it was $100/$200/$400 with a mandatory $800 straddle and a minimum buy-in of $25,000!
Like most rooms, the staff are largely incompetent and the supervisors might as well be mannequins. The best dealers are foreigners. The room is primarily run by the four promoters, who are very personable, multi-lingual, and will typically play in games that are short-handed.
Unlike the other poker rooms, Sortis does not close. The food is excellent, both in quality and variety. However, the kitchen closes at 3am. The house takes $5 from any pot over $1,000 to cover the cost of food.
Eusebio A Morales Ave & Via Veneto
Veneto Casino is perhaps most famous in Panama for its abundance of prostitutes. However, it also has a top-notch poker room with 10 tables. The poker room is included as part of the VIP area, which is a separate room from the rest of the casino. This is a huge benefit on weekends when the casino typically has live bands.
A game of $5/$5 No Limit Hold’em starts every day by 5pm (except Sundays), and a 2nd table frequently starts around 9pm. The game typically runs until close at 6am.
The Veneto is the only poker room with a 24h kitchen, and the food is good (although not as good as the food at Sortis). This is also the only poker room that does not rake extra to cover the cost of the food.
The Veneto is also the only poker room in Panama City with a jackpot, which pays any hand from four-of-a-kind and above.
Between the availability of high stakes and the abundance of loose action, Panama City is by far the best place to play poker in Central America. Panama City is also one of the most easily accessible cities, with an array of international flights. Dining and accommodations are reasonably priced (especially if you negotiate a poker rate with the casino), and there are plenty of tourist attractions as well as an excellent nightlife, making Panama City an all-around fantastic choice for a poker vacation!
What do you think? Is Panama City worth a visit? If you’ve been there yourself, please tell us of your experience in the comments below!