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Wizard Recommends

Last Updated: January 12, 2018

Gambling in Aruba

The small island of Aruba has twelve casinos to entertain the nearly 1.5 million visitors it gets every year. Eight of them are located in the Palm Beach section of the island, which could be considered the Las Vegas Strip of the Caribbean. The casinos are very similar to those in America in their look and game selection. Furthermore, all gambling seems to be done based on the U.S. dollar. This page details my observations on most of the casinos there and includes some general Aruba travel tips at the end.

Blackjack

Except for a few exceptions, all blackjack rules seem to be six decks, blackjack pays 3-2, dealer hits soft 17, double any two cards, double after split allowed, surrender not allowed and re-splitting aces is not allowed. Beware that 6-5 blackjack has unfortunately invaded Aruba. I also saw a double-deck game at the Orchid casino at the RIU. I would roughly estimate that 60% of the tables used an automatic shuffler, 30% a hand shuffle, and 10% a continuous shuffler. Penetration on the first two types was about 2/3. Following is the basic strategy under the Aruba rules:

Poker

Three casinos offer live poker in Aruba: the Orchid Casino in the Rui, the Excelsior Casino at the Holiday Inn and the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino. I can only comment on the rake at the Rui, which is 5% up to $10 for Texas Hold' Em and up to $12 for Omaha. Compared to Vegas, this rake is inordinately high.

I spoke with a friend who plays a lot of poker in Aruba. He says most games are no-limit hold 'em and pot-limit Omaha. He says that many players speak Spanish openly at the table, despite an English only rule. The dealers, he complained, don't enforce the rule. Nevertheless, he says the locals are awful players, which American pros prey on. Players from Venezuela were the second best source of soft players, but there are fewer of them around due to the economy of that country tanking.

Machines

The video poker and video keno in Aruba are simply awful. The pay tables are about as bad as they get, often the same as used at the Las Vegas airport, which is the worst place to play video poker in Vegas. To make matters worse, some older casinos use cathode-ray machines that date back to the 80's. If the video poker and video keno are any sign of how they set their reeled slots, which is generally a strong indicator, then I would expect them to be as tight as a cruise ship. My advice is to avoid anything that plugs into the wall. If you must play the machines, then do so in strict moderation.

Drink Service

Aruba is one of the few places I've been outside the United States where alcoholic drinks are free to players. The frequency of cocktail waitress service can vary significantly from one casino to the next. I would estimate the frequency of visits per hour ranges from zero to three. I do think the mixed drinks are generally stronger and larger than what you get in the US.

Smoking

Smoking is, unfortunately, allowed in casinos in Aruba. It is sad that any locality would allow this health hazard in a public place. A role of government should be to keep places of business open to the public healthy and safe, which most countries realize by banning smoking in all public places, including casinos. The United States and Aruba are unfortunate and sad exceptions.

Tipping

I'm not sure if this is true, but I was told tipping expectations are the same in Aruba as the US. Be warned, many restaurants will quietly add a service charge to the bill. I didn't notice this until a few days into the trip and I'm sure double-tipped at some restaurants before catching it. In the casinos, I seldom noticed other players tipping the dealers or cocktail servers, but I may have just been around stingy patrons.

Dress Code

The entire island of Aruba is very casual. You will be perfectly fine in any casino or restaurant in shorts and a t-shirt. Furthermore, Aruba is hot. The more clothes you wear, the more uncomfortable you'll be. I brought some nice clothes with me, not knowing what to expect, and never touched them.

Transportation

Taxis are readily available and have fixed pricing from one zone to another, like in Washington DC. The price from the airport to Palm Beach is $25, which is quite reasonable. Unless the cab is the type that is a small bus, the maximum number of passengers allowed is five, which is strictly enforced. I was a bit annoyed at this rule as we were a party of six. At the airport there will be a queue for taxis. Don't worry if it looks long -- it moves fast.

Rental cars are readily available, but I think most people won't need one, especially for the whole trip. We got one for just one day to hit some miscellaneous points we didn't see on a guided tour during previous visits. The cost for one day with a small car was about $120.

There is a public bus that goes up and down between Oranjestad and Boca Catalina Beach. When I was there, the cost was $2.50. There are also private individuals (I assume) that make the same trip in big passenger vans. These poachers charge the same amount.

Finally, there are blue rental bicycles at self-service facilities where you rent by the hour, or day, with a credit card. Cost was $8 for one hour and $12 for two. I forgot the rates for increments greater than two hours. I highly recommend this method of transportation in any city that has them.

Coupons

There are many coupons for match plays and free slot play for many of the Aruba casinos. Most hotels have a desk for somebody who arranges excursions and there are many coupons to be found on or near such desks. If not, I'd suggest the hotel front desk. I’ve heard many casinos will reimburse cab fare as well, but can't directly vouch for that. On my visit I collected about $200 worth of casino coupons and triple-dipped with my wife and daughter.

Downtown

Downtown Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba, has two small casinos. They seem to attract mainly locals as the city is rather far from most of the hotels. They probably get some foot traffic from the cruise ships that park within walking distance. Both casinos were pretty quiet the evening I paid a visit.

Seaport Casino

I think this is the only casino in Aruba that isn't associated in any way with a hotel. It is located on what seems to be a large pier supporting various shops and restaurants, similar to Pier 39 in San Francisco. It was very quiet on the evening of my visit other than several locals playing the slots. Almost all the table games were closed, which were as follows:

  • Blackjack: 3
  • Roulette: 2
  • Caribbean Stud Poker: 1
  • Three Card Poker: 1

A $0.25 video keno game I took notes on had an average return of 91.97%.

Here are video poker games available on a randomly chosen 25-cent machine:

  • 30-7-7-7 All American 94.00%
  • 20-10-8 Deuces Wild 95.96%
  • 6-5 Double Double Bonus 94.66%
  • 7-5 Jacks or Better 96.15%
  • 14-7-4 Joker Poker (kings) 94.00%
  • 6-5 Triple Trouble Bonus Poker 96.26%
  • Average 95.17%

Crystal Casino

The Crystal Casino is associated with the Renaissance hotel in downtown Oranjestad. It is a nice property that boasts its own private island to hotel guests. The casino is about twice the size as the Seaport and much more modern and upscale. Drink service was the fastest I've seen in Aruba. The players seemed to be a mix of locals and hotel guests. Following were the table games I counted:

  • Blackjack: 6
  • Roulette: 3
  • Baccarat: 1
  • Three Card Poker: 1
  • Caribbean Stud Poker: 1

The dealer did not take a hole card in blackjack, but if the dealer got a blackjack the player would lose his original bet only, making it mathematically equivalent to the peek rule every other Aruba casino followed.

The Caribbean Stud table followed a jackpot side bet pay table I haven't seen before, as follows:

  • Royal flush: 100% of jackpot
  • Straight flush: 10% of jackpot
  • Four of a kind: $500
  • Full house: $100
  • Flush: $50
  • Straight: $25
The return on the side bet is 46.05% plus 1.40% for every $10,000 in the meter. It turns positive at $385,208.79.

A 5-cent keno machine I took notes on had an average return of 91.97%. Sorry, I couldn't find a 25-cent machine. It has the same pay tables as the machine at the Seaport Casino.

The video poker pay tables were exactly the same as at the Seaport casino for the games the four games the two casinos had in common:

  • 30-7-7-7 All American 94.00%
  • 20-10-8 Deuces Wild 95.96%
  • 7-5 Jacks or Better 96.15%
  • 14-7-4 Joker Poker (kings) 94.00%
  • Average 95.03%

Palm Beach

Palm Beach could easily be compared to a miniature Las Vegas Strip. Here you will find several high-rise hotel/casinos and plenty of shops and restaurants. Most guests seemed to be from the U.S. and the casinos, for the most part, seemed like small versions of what you would see in Las Vegas. However, unlike Vegas, these were hotels with casinos, not casinos with hotels. The hotel lobbies looked like something you might see in Hawaiian resort with the casinos in a separate room you would likely never enter unless you were looking for it. Following are details about each property, in geographical order starting north.

Ritz Carlton

This casino was very crowded and energized the Friday evening I paid it a visit. Every table seemed to be near full except for some high-limit blackjack. The crowd seemed to be very American. The following table games were what you would expect in any American casino. The low-limit blackjack tables paid 6-5 on a blackjack.

  • Blackjack: 8
  • Roulette: 3
  • Craps: 1
  • Three Card Poker: 1
  • Caribbean Stud Poker: 1
  • EZ Baccarat: 1
  • Let it Ride: 1
  • Here were some video poker games on a randomly-chosen 25-cent game:

    • 30-6-5 Bonus Poker (/games/video-poker/tables/bonus-poker/) 96.17%
    • 20-10-8 Deuces Wild 95.96%
    • 7-5 Jacks or Better 96.15%
    • 800-15-7-5 Joker Poker (kings) 96.38%
    • 7-5 Double Double Bonus 95.71%
    • 7-5 Bonus Poker Deluxe 96.25%
    • Average 96.10%

    I found four different 25-cent keno games at the Ritz. The first numbers represent some variable numbers in the pay table for picking ten numbers. The return is the highest return for that game for any number of picks. The number of picks in parenthesis is the number of picks which maximizes the expected return.

    • 5-24-142 Spot keno 92.67% (pick 6)
    • 12-59 Caveman Keno Plus 92.19% (pick 7)
    • 30-160 Cleopatra 92.16% (pick 4)
    • 4-9-25-120 Power Keno 92.49% (pick 6)
    • Average 92.38%

    Marriott

    Like the Ritz Carlton, the Marriott casino was also very big (by Aruba standards), modern, glitzy, and crowded. If forced to compare, I would say the Marriott was a little more high energy than the Ritz. I feel pretty confident in saying that the Marriott is the largest casino in Aruba. Here is the table game count:

    • Blackjack: 8
    • Roulette: 4
    • Craps: 1
    • Three Card Poker: 3
    • Caribbean Stud Poker: 3
    • Let it Ride: 2

    Here were some video poker games on a randomly-chosen 25-cent game:

    • 25-16-13 Deuces Wild 96.77%
    • 9-6-4 Double Bonus 96.38%
    • 7-5 Jacks or Better 96.15%
    • 800-50-15-7 Joker Poker (kings) 96.38%
    • 7-5 Bonus Poker Deluxe 96.25%
    • 7-5 Double Double Bonus 95.71%
    • 12-4-3-2 Deuces Wild Bonus 96.22%
    • 6-5 Triple Bonus Poker Plus (/games/video-poker/tables/triple-bonus-plus/) 96.62%
    • Average 96.31%

    The only two video 25-cent keno games I found were surprisingly liberal. In both cases, they were set to the most liberal pay tables the machine allows.

    • 5-24-146 spot keno 94.99% (pick 6)
    • 14-75-890 Super Keno 92.99% (pick 6)
    • Average 93.99%

    Holiday Inn

    What is called the Holiday Inn Casino is a separate building called the Excelsior. It is a small and run-down casino that I am surprised is worthy of the Holiday Inn name. The machines looked like hand me downs from Arizona Charlie's (Decatur) in Vegas. The table game felts were so old, stained, and cigarette-burn ridden that I think they fished them out of the dumpster at the old Western in downtown Las Vegas.

    I played some blackjack one on one while I was there. We went through a whole shoe without a single word or friendly gesture from the dealer. When he won a bet, he would slam the chips in the tray. I got the impression he was probably the bouncer on a normal day but one of the dealers called in sick. The Aruba license plates say "one friendly island," but I don't think whoever came up with that slogan ever met this particular dealer.

    Most of the table games were closed the afternoon of my visit. What did exist were as follows:

    • Blackjack: 5
    • Roulette: 2
    • Craps: 1
    • Caribbean Stud Poker: 1
    • Three Card Poker: 1

    I could not find a single conventional video poker game. What few machines I did find looked like cathode-ray jobs from the 1980's. They had games I've never even heard of like Improve Your Hand and Triple Chance Poker. The only game I was familiar with was Pick 'Em Poker. A deuces wild pay table had a return of 97%, which, in all fairness, is pretty good for Aruba. I was genuinely afraid if I took notes on the other games for later analysis, the blackjack dealer would take me in the alley and show me how they deal with spies the old-school way.

    What few patrons were there all looked like locals who probably spent a little too much time there. Never once did I see a cocktail waitress and nobody spoke a word to me the entire hour or so I was there. I will say the rest of the Holiday Inn looked nice, so I wouldn't let this casino report scare you from staying there, as long as you gamble somewhere else.

    Hyatt

    The Hyatt had a nice medium-sized casino that always seemed to be crowded and high energy. The flip side of that was it was usually difficult to find a spot at a blackjack table under a $25 minimum bet. The table mix was typical for Aruba, as follows:

    • Blackjack: 6
    • Roulette: 3
    • Craps: 1
    • Let it Ride: 1
    • Three Card Poker: 1
    • Caribbean Stud Poker: 1

    The video poker was on nice modern machines but the pay tables were awful, as follows:

    • 6-5 Bonus Poker 96.87%
    • 9-6-4 Double Bonus 96.38%
    • 7-5 Double Double Bonus 95.71%
    • 9-6-4 Triple Bonus Poker 95.88%
    • 6-5 Jacks or Better 95.00%
    • 40-20-5-4-3 Joker Poker (kings) 95.46%
    • 25-16-13 Deuces Wild 96.77%
    • Average 96.01%
    A 25-cent spot keno game I chose at random followed a 1-0-0-0-1-2-36-115-225-300-800 pay table for a pick-10 for a return of 92.69%.

    Barceló

    This is probably the smallest casino in Aruba. Very quiet too.

    Only three tables -- two blackjacks and one roulette.

    Here is the lousy 25-cent video poker:

    • 6-5 Bonus Poker 96.87%
    • 9-6-4 Double Bonus 96.38%
    • 7-5 Double Double Bonus 95.71%
    • 6-5 Jacks or Better 95.00%
    • 25-16-13 Deuces Wild 96.77%
    • Average 96.15%

    The pick-10 spot keno followed a pay table I hadn't seen before, which went 1-0-0-0-1-2-36-115-225-300-400 for a return of 96.62%, which for Aruba is quite good. In fact, better than most of their video poker games, which is very unusual.

    Hilton

    The Hilton casino was rather small and non-descript. Here is the table game count:

    • Blackjack: 4
    • Roulette: 2
    • Craps: 1
    • Let it Ride: 1
    • Three Card Poker: 1
    • Caribbean Stud Poker: 1
    Here is the 25-cent video poker:
  • 8-5 Jacks or Better 97.30%
  • 35-6-5 Bonus Poker 97.36%
  • 9-5 Double Double Bonus 95.27%
  • 20-12-10 Deuces Wild 97.58%
  • 7-5 White Hot Aces 97.44%
  • 10-7-5 Shockwave 95.72%
  • Average 96.78%
  • I could find only two 25-cent video keno games. Big disparity in the returns, which is unusual. That Cleopatra pay table is as low as they get.

    • 4-9-100-300 Caveman (10X) 91.64% (pick 5) 3-5-25-100 Cleopatra 88.58% (pick 10)

    Riu -- Cool Casino

    The Riu has got to be the tallest and biggest hotel in Aruba. It looks big enough to be a contender on the Las Vegas Strip. I hear it used to be two separate hotels, but one bought out the other and merged the two into one. This may explain why they also have two separate casinos. The Cool Casino is the smaller and quieter of the two. If you're looking for a nice quiet casino with available seats at low limits, I think your odds would be good here. Here are the table games:

    • Blackjack: 3
    • Baccarat: 2
    • Roulette: 2
    • Craps: 1
    • Three Card Poker: 1

    Only three 25-cent video poker games to choose from:

    • 7-5 Jacks or Better 96.15%
    • 20-10-8 Deuces Wild 95.96%
    • 30-7-7-7 All American 94.00%
    • Average 95.37%

    The best 25-cent keno game was the pick-10, with a 3-28-140-1000-4800-10000 pay table, at a 86.72% return, which is very bad.

    Riu — Orchid Casino

    The Orchid Casino is bigger and more energetic than the Cool Casino but not as crowded and noisy as the big casinos at the Ritz and Marriot. Like the Cool Casino, I think it's a place where a low roller can find a spot at a 3-2 blackjack table, but beware that they also deal 6-5 blackjack. I played here about four hours altogether and found the drink service frequent and the dealers on top of their games. Here are their table games:

    • Blackjack: 5
    • Roulette: 2
    • Triple Flop Roulette: 1
    • Craps: 1
    • Pai gow poker: 1
    • Three Card Poker: 1
    • Caribbean Stud Poker: 1

    One of the blackjack games was an exception to the usual rules explained at the top of this page. The only differences were two decks and doubling was allowed on 10 or 11 only. The house edge under these rules is 0.69%, 0.05% higher than the six-deck game.

    You might ask what Triple Flop Roulette is. That is based on standard 38-number roulette, but played with cards. Besides betting on the first card dealt, as in roulette, they deal two more for a three-card hand. There are additional bets on the poker value of the three-card hand. I plan to add a page on this game later.

    Here the 25-cent video poker games, which are Las Vegas airport stingy.

    • 6-5 Jacks or Better 95.00%
    • 10-8-5-3 Bonus Poker 95.78%
    • 8-5 Double Bonus 94.19%
    • 6-5 Double Double Bonus 94.66%
    • 25-15-10 Deuces Wild 94.82%
    • 800-6-5 Joker Poker (aces) 93.78%
    • 7-5 Triple Double Bonus 94.92%
    • Average 94.74%

    Eagle Beach

    I'm afraid I never had the time to visit the two casinos of Eagle Beach, except to take these pictures. I'll have to leave you with these direct links to learn more about them.

    Tropicana:

    Alhambra:

    Aruba — Other than Gambling

    Aruba is a fun place to spend a week. The beaches are beautiful, the people are mostly friendly (outside of the Holiday Inn casino), it seems very safe and there are lots of things to do. The only other places I could compare it to in the Caribbean are Curacao, the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo and Punta Cana), and the Bahamas (Freeport). Of these, I'd rank Aruba the best. It can be rather touristy, like Las Vegas, but the flip side of that coin is there is lots to do.

    Activities I recommend

    Boca Catalina Beach — While Palm Beach may be beautiful, there is zero to look at snorkeling. If you want some great snorkeling, take the bus or a taxi up to Boca Catalina Beach. As soon as you step into the water, you'll be surrounded by numerous types of colorful fish. It's the same place the snorkeling boats out of Palm Beach bring you. If you didn't bring snorkeling gear, guys one beach up at Catalina Cove will rent you some for $20. The beach is small and quiet with free shaded umbrellas to relax under.

    Mount Hooiberg — To be honest, I'm not sure whether to address this peak as a "mount," but somebody should come up with a term for it. While it isn't the highest point in Aruba, I believe it has the most prominence. Aruba has other such small mountains that jut out of the otherwise flat island but this one you can park right next to and enjoy 563 steps (sources vary and I forgot to count) up to the summit. It may be hot on top but you'll enjoy a nice breeze and a great view of the island. Challenge yourself and give it a try!

    Zeerover Restaurant — This seems to be an Aruba legend, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. I don't want to call it a restaurant, but can't think of a better term. What you can expect is a business right on the water where fishermen park and sell their catch. They then sell it right back to the customers by weight. When you first get there, you can expect to stand in about a 30-minute line, but it's worth it. Get someone else in your party to buy some beers and strike up a conversation to the people next to you in line. When you get the front of the line, there will be a board showing whatever fish or shrimp they are selling that day as well as price per pound. When it was my turn, I didn't know how much to ask for my family of five, so asked for two types of fish, shrimp and fries for five people. They put the fish and shrimp right in a bag in front of me and asked, "Does this look like enough?" Once you figure out what and how much to buy, they will give you a piece of wood with a number on it, and about ten minutes later, somebody will bring everything recently fried right to your table. It was delicious. There’s nothing like eating fish that was swimming in the ocean a few hours before. There is a separate window for beverages and there was no line at that time. The experience is a great reward after climbing Mount Hooiberg.

    Other Activities

    Here are some other things I did which don't rise to the level of "Highly recommend," but are still worth considering.

    De Palm Island -- This is a private all-inclusive island for day use only. A good option if you have children with you. All the food and beverages (with and without alcohol) you want. Great snorkeling as well as a zipline, banana boat rides, trampoline, and safe swimming area. There were some other options too but you had to pay extra. In the end, there may not have been enough to do for eight hours for some people but most people seemed to leave happy, including me. When I was there, the boat towing the banana boat broke down and my locker needed some WD-40 to open, so you might say some aspects were not in the best repair, but at $108 per person per day, you can't complain.

    Catalina Light House — This is a well-preserved light house at the north tip of the island. When I was there it was too early to buy the $10 tickets to walk to the top. If you do any kind of island tour, I'm sure you'll end up here at some point.

    Philip's Animal Garden — It is hard to not enjoy a refuge for discarded pets, from guinea pigs to Burmese pythons, to kangaroos. However, it is difficult to find in a rental car, very hot in the middle of the day, and rather small. I do like that they give you a bag of carrot sticks and what seems like dog food to feed the animals (except the monkeys). Be sure to put the food in the palm of your hand, unlike me who held out a carrot stick to this ostrich who evidently was never told "don't bite the hand that feeds you!" In the end, it's too small to make a day trip out of, but if you have a rental car for the day and like small zoos, go ahead and kill an hour or two there.

    Baby Beach — If you have a baby with you, don't be fooled by the name. I hear it is called that because it's a small beach, not that it's safe for babies. My guide for the day told me the beach has had more than its share of drowning victims due to a powerful rip tide. Still, I enjoyed some snorkeling there and survived. Not as good as Catalina Beach or Palm Island, but more challenging with the waves pushing and pulling you around. The restaurant there called Big Mama Grill had a nice large menu and a Flinstones theme. Sorry, no brontosaurus steaks, like Fred gets. I should warn you my mother-in-law got sick with what seemed like food poisoning after eating there and two others in my family were hit, but not as badly. The other three of us escaped unscathed, so I can't absolutely blame Big Mama but my mother-in-law certainly does. You can believe who you want.

    Oranjestad — I think it is called this because the royal family of the Netherlands, of which Aruba sort of belongs, (long story), is known as the "House or Orange." By coincidence, I was in Amsterdam just six months before and was told this on a tour of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. What you'll find here is two casinos, several restaurants, lots of souvenir stalls and shops, and jewelry stores everywhere you look. I found the only thing worth doing was the flea market on north end of town, where you'll find souvenirs, including plenty of hand-made items, at 25% to 50% of what you'll pay in the souvenir shops.


    This was actually my room at the Brickell Bay. What are the odds? The only reason for the long pants is I was headed to the airport, where I had to make a connecting flight in Boston, where it was way below freezing.

    As for where to stay, I can only say I was happy with the Brickell Bay. It is a small four-story hotel on the opposite side of the road as the beach in Palm Beach. The building may be a little old but the rooms are comfortably furnished and have nice powerful air conditioners and showers that are not stingy with the flow, like all Vegas hotels. The staff are all very friendly and helpful. They have their own area of the beach a five-minute walk from the hotel. It has an open air restaurant that serves all the American stables, if you get homesick. They have the only American-graded prime steaks on the island. I'm sure the big resorts along the beach are more opulent, but if you want to save a lot of money at little expense in comfort, I highly recommend the Brickell Bay. I do have to confess that I'm friendly with a friend of the owner who set me up there so I may be a little biased.

    Summary

    Overall, the whole family had a good time in Aruba. It took a lot of time to get there and back from Vegas so I would be more inclined to go more often if I lived on the east coast. As for the casinos, most of them are modern and fun but expect high minimums at the tables and tight machines. As a final word of advice, bring plenty of sunscreen and a big hat.