I have taken several trips to Panama City in the Republic of Panama to play poker and was pleasantly surprised by both the quantity of games and the stakes being played. While most of the city's many casinos do not offer poker, those that do have 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 $20-25). 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.
|Rating||Hotel Price Range|
|★★☆☆☆||$27 - $50 / night|
|★★★☆☆||$32 - $105 / night|
|★★★★☆||$70 - $220 / night|
|★★★★★||$160 - $190 / night|
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).
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 Sortis for $1.50, and maybe $3.00 to the Majestic. At night, the rates typically double. You can also use Uber, although recent changes to the laws regarding taxis and Uber in Panama could restrict you from paying cash.
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 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.
If looking to play online, you can play on most online poker sites in Panama (but on Merge). Our recommendation is Americas Cardroom, where you can earn 27% rakeback:
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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 poor as a general rule. They are slow, 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 each poker room takes money out of the pot (in addition to the rake) to offset this cost, and you'd really have to gorge yourself to offset the amount taken!
Panama City Cashout Tax
In May 2015, the government of Panama implemented Law 23, which applies a 5.5% tax on all casino cashouts. Note that this is not a tax on winnings, but rather any cashout. You could buy-in for $1,000, cash out $500, and would still be charged $27.50 in taxes! They even tried to charge me 5.5% when I tried to color-up $500 in $5 chips to five $100 chips (if you want to do this, you need to do it at a table, not the cage).
There are three ways to get around this tax:
- Don't cashout! If you are going to return to the same casino, simply hang on to your chips to use again for your next session. Only convert your chips to cash on your last night. If you need to color up, do it at a table.
- Sell your chips at the table. Each night players will sit in the game and try to buy chips with cash. Sell your chips from a previous session's winnings to them (most of the Panama poker rooms allow you to do this).
- Sell your chips to the promoters. Panama poker rooms typically employ promoters to run their games. Frequently these promoters will work as chip runners, and will also process cashouts at the table. They know this ridiculous tax could kill their business, so they'll gladly help you avoid it!
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 once had 11 tables, with the ability to host larger tournaments in the main casino, setting up 20-30 tables. They now have just 6 tables, and struggle to fill just one of them.
When they do get a game, it's typically $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em (sometimes they play $1/$3), although sometimes they play a mixed game of No Limit Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha.
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 Sun Casino and Sortis. The menu is rather limited, and the kitchen closes at midnight, even though the tables stay open until 5:30am.
Calle Punta Colon, Punta Pacifica
The Ocean Sun Casino is a huge, beautiful new casino located in the Bahia Grand Tower (previously called "Trump Tower"), which offers a stellar 360 degree panoramic view.
The Ocean Sun Casino poker room has 5 tables, and typically offers $1/$2 No Limit Hold'em and occassionally $1/$2 Pot Limit Omaha and $5/$5 No Limit Hold'em. Games typically get started around 6pm and run until 4 am.
They hold tournaments every Tuesday and Friday, starting at 6pm. Buy-ins range from $25-$40 and are usually rebuy events. The Ocean Sun Casino occasionally hosts larger week-long events as well.
The food is outstanding, and the wait staff are decent (by Panama standards). The Ocean Sun Casino also has a VIP points program that poker players can also participate in. You earn points as you play, which can be exchanged for various items, including a shuttle back to your hotel (or anywhere else you'd like to visit).
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.
Tables typically get going by 5-6pm. They have $2/$5 No Limit Hold'em and $25/$25 Pot Limit Omaha every day, and $5/$5 Pot Limit Omaha usually 4 nights a week. They will sometimes also have $1/$2 NLH and $5/$10 PLO.
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!
Sortis rake is 5% capped at $25, with an extra $1 on the flop for food and another $1 on the flop for prizes. While I despise money being taken out of the pot to pay for food, the food is excellent! However, the kitchen closes at 3am, which is dumb for a 24 hour operation.
Like most rooms in Panama, the staff are largely incompetent and the supervisors might as well be mannequins. The best dealers are foreigners, and the wait staff are atrocious. 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.
The system they use for starting tournaments is also ridiculous. They fill 1 table at a time, so it's possible that you could be waiting for enough players to show up while others are already playing. Plus, there's no incentive to actually show up on time since late arrivals start with full stacks (there are no dead stacks on the table).
Unlike the other poker rooms in Panama City, Sortis does not close.
Eusebio A Morales Ave & Via Veneto
Veneto Casino is perhaps most famous in Panama for its abundance of prostitutes. However, it used to also have a top-notch poker room with 10 tables. It was located in the VIP area, which is a separate room from the rest of the casino. This was a huge benefit on weekends when the casino typically has live bands. The Veneto had the most consistent game in Panama City: $5/$5 NLH that started every day except Sundays at 5pm, with a 2nd table frequently opened at 9pm. The 2nd table would last about 4 hours, and the main table typically ran until 6am. Despite this incredibly consistent game, the Veneto closed their poker room. In fact, the entire casino was a ghost town the last time I visited.
The Veneto was also the only poker room with a 24h kitchen, and the food is good (although not as good as the food at Sortis or Sun Casino). This was also the only poker room that did not rake extra to cover the cost of the food, and was also the only poker room in Panama City with a jackpot, which paid 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 (as long as you can get around the ridiculous 5.5% cashout tax). Panama City is also one of the most easily accessible cities, with an array of international flights. Dining and accommodations are reasonably priced, 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!