For the casino lover Belize has limited facilities, but they can be a welcome break from too much sea and sand, or from the cloistered cruise ship casinos. The biggest is at the Princess Hotel and Casino in Belize City. It’s the nearest you will get to a Las Vegas style casino in this part of Central America. The Princess is located on the waterfront Princess Margaret Drive, just off Barracks Road. The casino is on the right as you enter the lobby. It’s glitzy, well decorated and laid out with faux marble floors.
The property is owned by the Turkey-based Princess Hotels and Casinos Group that allegedly has links to Eastern European casino operators. It was originally owned and operated by the Ramada Hotel Group. In April 2014 it came full circle around when it was officially announced in Belize that the casino has once again joined the Ramada Group, and is now officially renamed the Ramada Belize City Princess. This is not a change of ownership, but merely a franchise re-branding aimed at attracting more tourists from North America.
This small casino has three table games – American Roulette, Black Jack and Caribbean Stud Poker and three hundred slot machines. Belizeans are fanatics about craps but you will not find these at the Princess. Gamblers know this is the one game where the player stands an even chance against the house. The casino has recently introduced a two-day Poker Tournament, dubbed Texas Hold-em held every March.
The Princes Casino is well maintained, clean, fully air-conditioned and has free drinks to help you get warmed up for a night of gambling. The country has a sizable Chinese community due to lax immigration policies favoring Asians, and this is often reflected in the casino’s main clientele.
The casino opens at noon and the slot machines jingle until 4 in the morning. There is even a small show featuring dancing Russian girls every night (we’re not making this up!). Belizeans are not heavy gamblers – but they are picking up fast. You will find a mixed clientele most days – Chinese, Belizeans, and Central Americans – including some attractive young women idly playing the slot machines. For some unknown reason the few times we ventured into the casino there were almost no tourists. The area around this casino is not safe for walking around – day or night. Due to a proliferation of bars and discotheques in the area, thieves and muggers are common. Taxi drivers have been described as “pushy. If you must go we would suggest you stay elsewhere and catch a cab of your choice to the casino and back, and be very sober.
As a hotel and restaurant this casino is severely lacking. The staff is friendly but the end product is heavily criticized on most traveler’s forums. As for the casino, here is a typical comment:
“Interested in gambling? If you play in the States, get ready for some differences! #1: Checking in with the entrance before entering (including your passport and a photo shot). #2: figuring out which slots take BZ versus U.S. and which cashier to change which currency at #3 figuring out the rules at the Blackjack table….here is a preview: the shoot is loaded with at least 5 decks. Dealer deals everyone 2 cards except him/her self (only 1 card up). You can bet on other players hands #4 you can’t bet an odd number…e.g. I tried to bet my $5 chip and add the $2.50 to the bet and wasn’t allowed to. Not a big deal, but just be ready to make some adjustments. ”
On Wednesday most of the Russian dancers are bused 80 miles away to the small town of San Ignacio where there is a miniature Princess Casino located next to the San Ignacio Hotel up the hill from the Fire Station. There they do a couple of shows to entice locals and tourists in that area.
As for the rest of the country – casino action is steadily downhill from there. You can find “gaming rooms” in almost any city and town throughout Belize. Most of these are aimed at locals. They tend to be run-down and seedy, and are often attached or actually inside local Chinese greasy spoons. They are not recommended for visitors. Most of the slot machines are very old and some locals claim, rigged.
Ambergris Caye has a couple of mini-casinos, mostly a couple dozen slot machines and sometimes games of poker.
In the north of the country, at the Corozal Free Zone, you will find several casinos aimed at luring Mexicans from the border town of Chetumal, but which are also patronized by some Belizeans in the area. These casinos are basically replicas of the Ramada Belize City Princess with odds heavily loaded in favor of the casino and also featuring Russian, Brazilian and Colombian “dancers”. The largest of these is the Las Vegas Casino, run by a U.S. immigrant family.. A subsidiary of the Ramada Belize City Princess Casino there, was recently shuttered, allegedly to move operations to Chetumal, Mexico to join in the fray of recent legislation allowing the operation of casinos in Quintana Roo, Mexico.