Casino gambling in the islands - Friday 27th of February 2009

The main attraction of a Caribbean vacation has always been the sugar-white sand and clear, turquoise sea of a quiet beach. But some visitors prefer to spice up their tropical getaway by trying their luck at the green-felt gaming tables.

Throughout the region, at least a dozen islands offer casino gaming. Island casinos range from the grand and luxurious, such as Atlantis Resorts 60,000-square-foot Vegas-style gambling palace on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, to the curiously named American Casino at Jack Tar Village in the Dominican Republic, which has about 40 slot machines and a dozen table games.

Gambling has carved out a niche in such tourist spots as the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Aruba and St. Maarten. But there are also casinos on islands less identified with gambling, such as St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. Kitts.

Undoubtedly, the most extravagant casino in the tropics is at Atlantis, with 80 table games, 875 slots, and a race and sports book. The casino caters not only to guests of the sprawling resort - elaborately themed after the mythical lost continent, complete with a vast water park, aquariums and dolphin habitat - but also to cruise-ship passengers, who arrive daily, and boaters, who tie up their yachts at one of the 170 slips.

The Atlantis motif is carried throughout the casino, which is decorated with Dale Chihuly glass sculptures. From some spots in the casino, gamblers can catch a glimpse of the resorts picturesque grounds.

"Gaming has evolved here as the property has evolved and expanded," says George Markantonis, president and managing director for Atlantis. For example, exclusive boutique gaming areas have been added outdoors and inside, as part of the upscale Cove - one of the hotels at the luxury complex.

In addition to the Atlantis, the Bahamas has the Crystal Palace Casino at Cable Beach, on the north side of New Providence island, where there are Wyndham and Sheraton resorts, and the Westin and Sheraton Our Lucaya Beach and Golf Resort on Grand Bahama island.

Travelers looking to try their luck should be aware of local regulations on each island, such as the gambling age and currencies that can be used. For instance, while the gambling age in Las Vegas and Atlantic City is 21, casinos on many islands, such as the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and St. Maarten, allow 18-year-olds to play. And while casinos in the Bahamas and on St. Maarten use only U.S. dollars, in the Dominican Republic, dollars and pesos are accepted.

St. Maarten, the Dutch portion of the island shared with St. Martin (French), has 13 casinos. The Casino Royale is among the largest gaming halls and was recently renovated. The 14,000-square-foot casino has 30 tables, 400 ticket-in/ticket-out slots and Texas Hold em poker. The standalone casino is part of the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, which offers restaurants, shops and a new nightclub.

In Puerto Rico, there are nearly 20 casinos, each in a hotel or resort. Most are in the San Juan area, though some casinos are in Fajardo to the east and Ponce in the south. The El San Juans 12,000-square-foot casino - with carved-wood ceilings and crystal chandeliers reflecting its Old-World charm - recently got new furnishings and coinless slots as part of the resorts $50 million renovation.

The so-called ABC islands - Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao - offer a range of gaming styles. In Aruba, the Marriott has the 15,000-square-foot Stellaris Casino, a relatively large gambling parlor by Caribbean standards. Meanwhile, Hotel Kura Hulanda in Curacao, which has 80 rooms in restored 18th- and 19th-century Dutch Colonial buildings, is associated with a "European-style, split-level boutique casino." The casino is nestled in a peaceful village complex with a spa, gardens and an anthropological museum.

On St. Kitts, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Royal Beach Casino at the Marriott offers 35,000 square feet of gaming and includes just about everything a player can find in Vegas, including 350 slots, about 30 table games, a sports and race book with large-screen plasma TVs, and poker tournaments. In keeping with a longstanding gambling tradition, the casino regularly runs junkets on charter jets for its high-rollers.

The challenge for gamblers is finding time to splash in those turquoise waters while avoiding being soaked at the green-felt tables.

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