I decided to book a trip to Santo Domingo for 9 days, figuring this would give me a chance to visit them all of the poker rooms and hopefully have enough time to pay for the trip with my poker winnings. There is a lot of information to cover from this poker trip so I have broken it into two separate articles. This article is an overview of poker in Santo Domingo, plus a review of the 6 different Santo Domingo poker rooms I visited. In the other article, you can read about my personal experiences playing poker in Santo Domingo, which is written as a daily journal (similar to my Bogota poker trip report).
Below is a quick summary of the six different poker rooms at which I played. Hotel and Casino Naco is closed (which I confirmed by going there), and I was informed that the El Napolitano casino is closed also, but I cannot confirm this.
Click any of the casino names to read a more detailed write-up on that casino’s poker room. Below are links to other sections you may be interested in jumping to:
- Santo Domingo
- Poker in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo is rich in culture and history with plenty of places to visit, including the possible burial place of Christopher Columbus. While there are undoubtedly plenty of wonderful resorts surrounding the city, giving many visitors the impression of a pristine beach paradise, the city itself is littered with garbage, which creates a wonderful aroma in the sweltering heat. Average daily temperatures are 31-32 degrees Celcius (88-90 degrees Fahrenheit).
|Rating||Hotel Price Range|
|★★☆☆☆||$28 - $78 / night|
|★★★☆☆||$45 - $125 / night|
|★★★★☆||$95 - $269 / night|
There are plenty of hotels to choose from. I had considered booking myself into an all-inclusive resort and just paying more for taxis into the city. If I were to return, that is what I would do. Remarkably, the all-inclusive resorts cost about the same as the hotels in the city.
Taxis from any hotel in the city to any of the casinos should cost 150 Dominican Pesos (DOP), which is $3.44 USD (the exchange was 43.6 DOP per $1 USD). Taxi drivers will often try to charge tourists more, so confirm the rate when you book the taxi. The return from the casinos was invariably 200 DOP ($4.59 USD) unless you call a taxi yourself.
Bring plenty of cash with you – local ATMs have a withdrawal limit of 10,000 DOP ($229 USD), and charge a fee on every transaction, although you can make multiple transactions each day. If you do use an ATM, make sure you use one outside of a bank or casino as fake ATMs are abundant in Santo Domingo. Do not exchange money at the airport! They charge the worst exchange rates I have ever seen in my life. You can change money at any bank, but will also get similar (if not identical) rates changing your money at Western Union, your hotel, or even at the casinos themselves, who typically give 43 DOP per USD.
Since I mostly ate at the poker rooms, I cannot comment much about the dining in Santo Domingo. There certainly wasn’t much near my hotel other than fast food chains. If you’re a foodie, here’s a list of six great places to eat in Santo Domingo. Given that there are only 28 Caribbean countries (only 7 of which have a population over 1 million people), don’t be too impressed by them ranking Santo Domingo as one of “the top 10 cities for food in the Caribbean”.
Poker plays differently in Santo Domingo. The first major difference is that the buy-in is almost always set at just 10 Big Blinds. That’s like playing $1/$2 no limit texas hold'em with $20! Even worse, after your initial buy-in you can rebuy for just 5 Big Blinds! With the exception of 100/200 No Limit Hold’em at the Princess and 100/200 3-Card Hold’em at the Jaragua, everyone buys in for the minimum. As a result, almost every pot has a player pushing all-in pre-flop and it’s not uncommon for a pot to have 2 or even 3 side pots. A favorite play is for the blinds to shove all-in against multiple limpers, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you can limp with a weak drawing hand on the button behind other limpers. Do this and you’re throwing away 1 BB 90% of the time.
With players consistently buying in for 5-10 BBs, you can expect to get absolutely murdered by the rake. Every Santo Domingo poker room charges 10% on the first 2,000 DOP, and they also take another 100 DOP for the jackpot as soon as the pot reaches 1,000. That’s right, they take the jackpot fee at the lowest rake level, not the highest! Most places cap the rake at 300 DOP, which is $6.88 USD, and thus quite high, especially when you consider that another $2.29 USD is taken for the jackpot.
Here’s an example of just how punishing the rake is. Imagine you get A♥K♦ in middle position in a 50/100 game of No Limit Hold’em. You raise to 300 DOP (3 BBs). The Big Blind shoves all-in for his newly rebought 500, and you call. He turns over A♠J♣, creating what should be an ideal situation for you since you have your opponent dominated. However, 100 DOP gets gobbled up for the rake, and another 100 DOP goes to the jackpot, which you have no chance of winning since it pays only quads (with a pair in hand) and straight flushes (using two cards in your hand). That leaves just 850 DOP in the pot (500 of which you contributed). Right now, you’re probably thinking, “holy crap, they took 19% out of the pot?!?!”, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. Instead, you should be thinking, “holy mother of #$!(*&#@% they took 36.4% of my potential winnings?!?!?”
Here’s your EV calculation:
71.41% chance of winning 350 DOP = 249.9 DOP
4.58% chance of tying (loss of 75 DOP) = -3.4 DOP
24.02% chance of losing 500 DOP = -120 DOP
So as a 2.8:1 favorite, your total EV is just 126.5 DOP (25.3% ROI on your 500 DOP investment). If your opponent was shoving all-in with a garbage hand like Q♠T♣, your EV would be just 43.7 DOP (8.7% ROI as a 1.8:1 favorite). Coin flips would cost you an average of 75 DOP (-15% ROI) each.
This is a worst-case scenario (since the worst percentage taken from the pot occurs at 1,000 DOP). However, given that most players buy in for the minimum amount (and frequently shove it all-in before a single round has passed), it’s not an uncommon scenario.
While there are plenty of very nice and friendly Dominican poker players, the typical poker player in Santo Domingo is loud and obnoxious. Rather than tapping the table to indicate they are checking, many frequently smash the table with the thin edge of a poker chip in order to create the most noise possible. Of the 8 nights I played, there was at least one loud argument every single night, with each argument lasting as long as 30 minutes because they absolutely refuse to let it go.
Rabbit-hunting is also pretty common – players will even ask for the dealer to deal out the flop if the hand is won pre-flop! It’s also pretty common for players to reach out and expose the burn cards after the hand is over (apparently to see if the card they needed was burned).
Most of the dealers have no concept that they are responsible for maintaining order on the table. If an argument breaks out (and one always does), most just sit back and enjoy the respite from dealing. Since few players tip, the dealers don't care about the loss of dealt hands. Although I did not witness too many mistakes made by dealers with regards to dealing the cards, the responses to these mistakes (by both the dealers and the managers) was downright atrocious.
In one instance, the dealer forgot to burn a card before dealing the flop. The correct fix to this is to simply take the first flopped card and show it to all players. This then becomes the burn card and a new card is dealt from the top of the deck (since this is exactly how the cards should have been dealt in the first place). The only consequence of this mistake then becomes that the burn card was exposed. Instead, they re-dealt the entire hand (much to the chagrin of the player who had flopped a boat, and would still have had trips if the correct action was taken). I had folded from the small blind prior to the flop, and the blind was returned to me and I was dealt a new hand. I was the ONLY player to fold pre-flop on this particular hand, and went on to win the re-deal!
Dealers often struggle calculating side pots, which is a common occurrence due to the short buy-ins. Of course, while the dealer is struggling to figure it out, there are usually 1-2 players telling him what the side pot(s) should be. This just makes things worse because of course the dealer cannot take the word of a player, so all the players are managing to accomplish is to further confuse the poor dealer.
Players frequently show others their cards to other players while the hand is still in progress, even showing them to players who are still in the hand. Dealers usually say something about it but nothing is ever done. In one case, the player in the number two seat (who was all-in) got up from his seat with his cards and walked behind the dealer to show his cards to the player in the number 6 seat (who had folded). He then returned to his seat and won the main pot even though his hand should have been declared dead the second it came off the table.
All of the poker rooms in Santo Domingo also apply an incorrect rule with regards to showdown. The correct rule is that the player to make the last bet/raise on the river is the first player required to show their cards, and the order then proceeds clockwise from there. If there is no betting on the final round, then the first player to the left of the button must show first. In Santo Domingo, the first player to the left of the button must always show first, regardless of betting on the river. This creates the unusual situation where you check, your opponent bluffs and still gets to muck their bluff if you call and show a better hand. Although this is extremely annoying (and very incorrect), it can be advantageous since it encourages more bluffing. However, it also discourages players from making “hero calls”, since nobody wants to show a hand that can only beat a bluff until they know that they have been successful. Knowing this and using it to your advantage can be very profitable.
Every casino offers free food to poker players, which is nice. However, when you consider the amount they are raking, it’s the least they can do. Unless you are fluent in Spanish and know the local cuisine, good luck getting something you want. Only one casino had an actual menu; the rest will tell you that you can order whatever you’d like, and then proceed to tell you that they don’t have any of the things you ask for. Most of the time they just brought me a plain piece of chicken with a side of plantains, regardless of what I tried to order. As soon as they heard “pollo”, that’s what I ended up with. Consequently, many of the poker rooms I listed as having mediocre or bland food may actually have amazing dishes that I simply wasn’t able to order due to my broken Spanish, lack of knowledge of local cuisine, and utter unwillingness of servers to inform you of your options.
You can also expect an excessive number of chips in play. Most poker games need two denominations of chips, three at the most. For example, in a $1/$2 game of no limit hold’em, I expect the primary chip to be $5, with $1 chips used for blinds and collecting the rake. If there is a lot of money on the table, I expect to see $25 chips as well, and that’s it. However, in Santo Domingo, you can expect to see 5 different chip denominations in play at any time. Even worse, players are constantly coloring up their chips. I don’t mean that they are pushing forward 2 of their 5 stacks of 20 chips and asking for a color-up. No, most locals will color up 5 chips when they’ve only got 9 chips of that denomination! In a game of 50/100 NLH, you can expect to see denominations of 25, 100, 500, 1000, and even 5,000 if the game is big enough. In 100/200 games, they do not use the 25 chip (rake is always in multiples of 100), but they do add a 10,000 chip in bigger games.
Of course, just a few hands after coloring up most of their smaller chips, a player will frequently not have enough small chips to post their blinds. Instead of just posting a larger value chip, many will borrow a smaller chip from another player. Half the time, the borrowed chip doesn’t get returned, and nobody seems to care. It’s also not uncommon for another player to top up your all-in bet in order to save the dealer from needing to make a side pot. A player did this to me once, adding 200 DOP ($4.59) to my all-in bet, which got called by 3 players. When I won the pot, I tossed him 800 DOP ($18.35), which is his 200 DOP, plus the winnings. He tossed it back and said not to worry about it; he didn't even keep the original 200 DOP!
Every poker room in Santo Domingo seems to offer the exact same jackpot promotion. They all take 100 DOP from the pot as soon as the pot reaches 1,000 DOP. This means, that on a pot of 1,000 DOP, 20% of it disappears (100 for the rake, and 100 for the jackpot). To win the jackpot, you must make quads or better, using both cards in your hand (and for quads, you must be holding a pair). The payouts vary slightly at each casino.
|Hand||Percentage of Jackpot|
|Four of a Kind||10 - 20%|
|Straight Flush||20 - 35%|
|Royal Flush||75 - 100%|
For casinos that offer different games (like 3-card hold’em or Omaha), there is a separate jackpot that only pays straight flushes and better.
Because the jackpot represents a large percentage of small pots, and making quads or better can turn a losing session into a big winner, you should rethink how you play certain hands in Santo Domingo. For example, suited connectors have increased value, as do pocket pairs. You also may want to refrain from raising pre-flop with any suited broadway cards, or trying to steal the blinds with any hand that can hit the jackpot (it’s better to limp and see the flop first). I offered to chop the blinds with the big blind once, and instead she topped up my small blind from her own stack so she could see the flop with 87s. We checked it down and she gave me back my small blind after the hand was over. Normally, colluding to try to win the jackpot is a big no-no, but in Santo Domingo they don’t seem to care. There is no minimum pot size to win the jackpot, and can win it without seeing the river card. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could even rabbit-hunt to see if you would have won and still get paid if your hand completes.
A popular game in Santo Domingo is 3-card hold’em. In this version (which is also called Tahoe, or Lazy Pineapple), players keep all 3 cards throughout the entire hand, but can only use 0, 1, or 2 cards from their hand to make the best possible 5-card poker hand (i.e. they cannot use 3 cards from their hand).
Everyone I spoke to seemed to think this version of Hold’em was invented in the Dominican Republic, but I cannot find any information to support or refute that claim. Regardless of where it was invented, most Dominicans play the game poorly. Since I also know how to play Omaha, I felt that I would have an advantage in this game. Sure enough, most of the locals played it exactly like they would play Texas Hold’em, judging hands based on the best two cards, instead of looking for synergy between all 3.
If you are interested in playing 3-card Hold’em, there is a game most nights at the Jaragua, and it is sometimes played at El Embajador as well. Both typically play with 100/200 blinds. The Jaragua offers a separate jackpot for this game, which pays only straight flushes and better, and was over 120,000 DOP ($2,752) while I was there.
Avenida Máximo Gómez, 53, esquina 27 de Febrero
Like many casinos in Santo Domingo, the Barcelo typically starts the game at one limit, and then increase the blinds as the night wears on. At 4pm, they typically spread 25/50 No Limit Hold’em (approximately $0.57/$1.15), and then increase it to 50/100 ($1.15/$2.29) around 6pm. However, do not be fooled – these games do not play out like your typical $1/$2 game. Between the high rake and short buys, there is barely any money on the table, and a typical contested pot is only around 2,500 DOP ($57), with a really big pot being 10,000 DOP ($229). The game plays more like a turbo sit & go with everyone short-stacked and lots of all-in shoves.
The manager who runs the poker room is nice, and the dealers seem competent, but the room is pretty crowded (it’s a cordoned off area with 3 poker tables), and it gets a little warm. Almost every player was a local, although at one point there were three Americans at my table.
When I got hungry I ordered a chicken salad sandwich, which was pretty bland, but sampled another player’s fried chicken later in the evening, and it was delicious.
By 8pm, another table opened, and they had 2 full tables until they closed (which was either at 5am or 6am). I only played poker at the Barcelo Santo Domingo once.
Avenida George Washington
Dream Casino is attached to the Sheraton hotel, and was previously called the Melia (and is listed on Google Maps as such, and is also listed as closed). It is located beside the Jaragua Hotel & Casino.
There are 3 poker tables, with 2 sitting out on the casino floor that are used for No Limit Hold’em, and 1 that is roped off that is reserved for No Limit Omaha. The seats at the hold’em tables are pretty low, and at times the booming bass from the attached disco can be overbearing.
Before sitting in the 100/200 game, I spoke to the manager in order to find out some information about the game (for this article). He was incredibly rude, and refused to tell me the rake, and seemed genuinely annoyed by my questions. I almost told him off and left, but decided to give the game a shot (at least to collect the information I needed).
Although my first time playing poker at Dream Casino involved a near-full table that lasted until 6am, Dream seems to struggle to get a regular game of No Limit Hold’em. The game doesn't start until 8-9pm and when the hold’em game does finally start, it’s typically short-handed, and half the players are casino employees. It typically starts off as 50/100 No Limit Hold’em and later becomes 100/200.
The 200/500 No Limit Omaha game is very juicy. Players just love to get all-in and take their chances. It’s not uncommon for a player to shove all-in pre-flop on the very next hand after rebuying. It’s almost as if they view their first buy-in as a lottery ticket, and don’t start to play normally until they win their first pre-flop push (and their "normal" play is still incredibly loose).
Semi-bluffing in this game is pointless – players will almost always call you with any draw. All of the players in the 200/500 Omaha game are casino VIPs. In other words, they’re gamblers, and couldn’t care less about pot odds. In one particular hand, I remember a player turning his cards over, complaining that he had missed all of his outs – he needed a gutshot 8, or a 2-outer J to give him trips, for a total of 6 outs…in Omaha! All of the Omaha players are playing on credit. Each of them has a dedicated slot in the dealer’s tray for collecting markers. However, even though they all play together regularly and I was the only outsider, there was clearly no collusion.
65 Avenida Sarasota
El Embajador is one of the nicer hotels in Santo Domingo. It’s a 4 star hotel, with rooms costing $85 - $109. If you are concerned about personal safety, you probably won’t find a safer location to play poker, as the casino entrance is inside the hotel, and the entrance to the hotel is well inside the hotel grounds.
Unfortunately, there is only 1 poker table, and although the seats are big and comfy, they do tend to make the area around the table rather cramped. The game is run by Bobby, who regularly plays in the game and is an all-around great guy. If you plan to play poker there regularly, he can get you a good rate at the hotel. He will also make sure you are well looked after by the staff. The food is fantastic, and if you don’t know what to order, just ask Bobby and you won’t be disappointed.
Although most of the players are locals, El Embajador does get decent tourist traffic (and since it’s a higher class hotel, the tourists will bring more money to the game than a typical local would). Sadly though, the game starts pretty late (around 8pm), and if I hadn’t shown up to play poker at El Embajador at midnight, I expect the game would have broken shortly thereafter.
Naco Hotel and Casino (Closed)
22 Avenida Tiradentes
I had heard that Naco Casino is closed, and was able to confirm this.
Napolitano Hotel and Casino (Closed)
51 Avenida George Washington
Multiple sources informed me that Napolitano Casino is closed, although I never confirmed this.
Avenida Independencia, esquina Abraham Lincoln
The poker room, like the casino, is very clean and spacious. The lighting is great, as is the temperature. The game starts around 6:30pm, and they seem to only ever play 100/200 No Limit Hold’em.
The Hispaniola offers the lowest rake of any of the poker rooms I visited in Santo Domingo (capping it at 200 DOP on a pot of 2,100 DOP or more). This is also the only casino that has an actual menu (which is a huge plus if you don’t speak perfect Spanish and/or aren’t familiar with the local cuisine). I ordered chicken fingers, and they were delicious!
If enough players are on the waiting list, they will open a second table (usually around 9pm). They run the second table as a separate game instead of using it as a feeder to the main table. If both tables get short, it is up to the players to get them combined, as the management is no doubt interested in raking twice as much.
The game breaks pretty early (around midnight), and on my second trip to play poker at the Hispaniola, I learned just how clueless they are with regards to some of the rules. When a seat opens up at the Hispaniola, it is reserved for the player coming in. In other words, if you get seated in a position you do not like, you are stuck there!
I would not recommend playing poker at the Hispaniola for the following reasons:
- They obviously attract the sort of snakes who try to manipulate rules to their advantage
- They are clueless as to the already existing rules that prevent players from “gaming the system” and instead just make up their own poorly thought out rules
It suddenly became clear why I never saw another tourist playing poker during either of my trips to the Hispaniola.
367 Avenida George Washington
The game at the Jaragua starts between 6 – 6:30pm. The poker room has 2 tables, and is completely separate from the rest of the casino. There is plenty of space, and when they offer texas holdem tournaments, they bring in another 2 tables (and there is still plenty of room). The chairs are comfortable and height-adjustable, and the tables are the biggest of the six poker rooms I visited in Santo Domingo.
3-card Hold’em is very popular at the Jaragua, and it is usually played with 100/200 blinds. If a second table opens, it typically spreads 100/200 Hold’em. However, the first game will often start as 50/100 No Limit Hold’em, and then become 100/200 3-card Hold’em after the second table opens. Unlike most of the other Santo Domingo poker rooms, the Jaragua seems to attract more players with a proper bankroll. By 10-11pm, there are usually 2-3 players at the table who will buy-in for 10-20,000 DOP ($229 - $459). Most of the players are locals, but there are usually a couple of tourists playing as well.
As previously noted, most Dominicans do not properly adjust to the extra card in 3-card hold’em. Combined with the deeper stacks, this makes the 3-Card No Limit Hold’em game at the Jaragua one of the juiciest poker games in Santo Domingo. However, it is also the most heavily raked game. Although they do not take 300 DOP until the pot reaches 8,000 (as opposed to 5,000 at most other Santo Domingo poker rooms), they do take 500 DOP (a whopping $11.47) from any pot that exceeds 20,000 DOP ($459).
Although I really enjoyed playing poker at Jaragua Casino (despite an altercation with a slow-roller), I did not have a single winning session playing there. This was partly due to the fact that I didn't have a proper poker bankroll for the deeper stacked 100/200 3-card hold’em game, but mostly due to the fact that my luck was atrocious. However, despite my terrible results and the heavy rake, I would still recommend this as one of the best places to play poker in Santo Domingo.
The poker room managers are excellent, and seem genuinely interested in ensuring that you have a good time. At 9pm, the casino delivers food to all players. Although certainly not enough to be considered a full meal, it was always tasty, and you can order anything you want from the kitchen after 9pm. Although none of the meals I tried were overly impressive, they were certainly satisfactory.
Although I never played past 12:30am at the Jaragua, every time I left, the game was still going strong (sometimes with 2 full tables).
27 de Febrero, No 312 Bella Vista
There are two Princess Casinos, both on 27 de Febrero (yes, that’s a street name, named for the Independence of the Dominican Republic in 1844). However, the BQ Princess Hotel and Casino is closed. The Ramada Princess (which is not listed on Google maps) is open and has a poker room with 6 tables (2 for cash and 4 for tournaments).
The Princess Casino offers a tournament every night, starting at 9pm. The buy-in changes each night, but is typically 500 – 2,300 DOP ($11.47 - $52.8). When I played there, there were less than 20 players playing the tournament. Cash games start around 4pm, usually with 25/50 No Limit Holde’m, although by 6pm, the blinds are typically increased to 50/100.
The room is pretty crowded, and the temperature control is just awful. I was sweating while sitting in the number 10 seat. Later, I moved to the number 8 seat and was cold – the air conditioner seems to blow directly down onto that seat. The room is also incredibly dark, so much so that I had to double-check the suits of my hole cards several times because hearts and spades both looked black!
This was the only poker room that did not use an automatic shuffler on the table, and they also did not use a second dealer to shuffle the cards, so the game is slower than the other Santo Domingo poker rooms. All of the players were locals, and it was one of the least friendly environments I played in.
The staff are pretty nice, but seem overworked. I ordered food at some point, and it took an awfully long time to arrive, and was only mediocre - the chicken was overcooked, and the patacones (fried plantains) were undercooked.
Around 8:30pm, a table of 100/200 No Limit Hold’em opened up. Unlike most of the hold’em games in Santo Domingo, there appeared to be a decent amount of money on the table. When I left (at 11:30pm), both the 50/100 and 100/200 games were still going strong. Although I only played poker at the Princess Casino once, I do feel that the 100/200 No Limit Hold’em game is probably worth playing.
The bizarre rules used by the majority of Santo Domingo poker rooms makes for a very tough game. The short buy-ins keep all of the pots small, which the casino then rakes heavily. Calling a bluff and then being forced to show your cards while the bluffer gets to muck is annoying, but not nearly as annoying as the overall lack of class shown by players who loudly celebrate their suckouts as if they had just won the world series.
The best games to play are those where the players buy in for more than the ridiculously short minimum:
- 3-card 100/200 no limit hold’em at the Jaragua
- 100/200 No Limit Hold’em game at the Ramada Princess Casino
- 200/500 No Limit Omaha at Dream Casino
What do you think? Is Santo Domingo worth a visit? If you’ve been there yourself, please tell us of your experience in the comments below!