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LIAT Magazine....



Buy some chips. It's time to visit a few casinos, LIAT-style.

For most vacationers, the Eastern Caribbean means hot sun and cold tropical drinks. But for many visitors in the know, the region's islands can also mean some great casinos at some great resorts. A brief overview of what's available will enhance any vacation.

Finding gaming action in the Eastern Caribbean is just a matter of picking the right island. Not every island has legalized gambling and some islands have very limited casino action.

The following LIAT destinations currently offer casinos: Antigua, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, and St. Vincent. Each of the islands and individual resorts offer their own unique game experience.

Casinos are hot in the Caribbean. Almost every major new resort is including a casino in the plans when possible. This means more playing opportunities in the sun and more potential bargain-rate junkets (contact resorts individually to see what's offered). The atmosphere in Caribbean casinos is generally much more casual than most gaming operations throughout the rest of the world. From friendly and helpful dealers to intimate playing areas, the Caribbean gambling experience is usually festive and fun.

The basic games in the Caribbean include roulette, craps, 21 (blackjack), and slot machines. The minimum bet is generally $5, but this can vary. Hours of operation also vary, with many casinos open all day and others just open in the evening (most stay open until early morning). Many resorts offer gaming classes, packages, match-play coupons, and much more to encourage casino visitors.

Much of the Eastern Caribbean features a nice mix of small European-style casinos and larger Las Vegas-style choices. For instance, Antigua visitors may head to the intimate and glamorous St. James' Club for its European influence or to the larger and livelier Ramada Renaissance Royal Antigua Resort at Deep Bay or the Halcyon Cove Beach Resort and Casino at Dickenson Bay.

The Ramada is typical of the Antigua casino experience. In addition to the usual games, you'll find baccarat and backgammon. The luxuriously complete resort features 282 accommodations and a long list of amenities for those not in the elegant casino. Like many of the islands, Antigua's resorts often target casino junket vacationers.

On the sister islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, the French influence reigns. Admission procedures and playing formalities make these two islands more popular with serious players and less so with junketers.

Guadeloupe tourists should head for Casino de la Marina near the Hotel Meridien in St. Francois or the Gosier-les-Bains at the Hotel Arawak. Both casinos are a bit more elegant than most gaming places in the Caribbean.

Martinique's casinos are definitely more casual. Visitors should try the Casino Trois-Ilets at the Meridien Trois-Ilets or the Hotel La Batelliere Casino outside Fort-de-France. The popular games at both include French chemin-de-fer, roulette, craps, and blackjack.

Puerto Rico offers many choices throughout the island. San Juan visitors should definitely check out busily elegant El Centro, which connects the La Concha and Condado Beach resorts. Other hotel possibilities include the Caribe Hilton, Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino, and El San Juan.

The best bets outside of San Juan are definitely the Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach and the Hyatt Dorado Beach. These sister Hyatt properties offer small casual casinos and incredible resort amenities.

Over on the British island of St. Kitts, the lone casino is small and casual. At the incredibly self-contained Jack Tar Village St. Kitt's Beach Resort & Casino, the playing tables are definitely not the main draw, so they are rarely crowded and always enjoyable.

Dutch St. Maarten has a large number of casinos and they have a very relaxed feel. Even if you're staying on the French side (St. Martin), there are frequent taxis and shuttles heading for the casino action.

Most of St. Maarten's casinos are conveniently located at the large resorts, including the Great Bay Beach Hotel and Casino, the Maho Beach Hotel and Casino, and the Mullet Bay Resort and Casino. Another popular option (especially for timeshare owners and exchangers) is the Pelican Resort and Casino overlooking Simpson Bay. Most of the casinos keep evening hours, but some now open in the afternoon.

Finally, St. Vincent features a unique casino opportunity. The Emerald Valley Casino is situated in a Scotland-like setting of rolling hills. The small modern club is an ideal place to relax and enjoy gaming the Eastern Caribbean way.

Casinos are just another way to enjoy the Eastern Caribbean. It's a great place to play.