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Though my first introduction to gambling was at the poker table, I began playing blackjack seriously six or seven years. With the help of the blackjackinfo.com forums I was quickly able to learn how to beat the game and traveled my country for many years playing for high stakes and getting banned from casinos after having won too much money. One of the great things about the game of blackjack is the opportunity to travel to new places. I had been wanting to visit Mexico for many years and going to Cancun would be a good opportunity to work on my rather limited Spanish. But mostly I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the cheap cost of living for a while.
There are three casinos with table games in Cancun proper, all located relatively close to each other. The first one I explored was Dubai Palace. Mesas or ‘table games’ open here at 2 pm. The good news is they have an extremely liberal rule set. The full rules are S17, DAS, DA2, Resplit to 4 hands, ES10 and Peek. Unfortunately I was unable to see if re-splitting of aces is allowed however the ubiquitous one card only to split aces rule was in play here.
The house edge for these rules is a very modest 0.18%. The bad news is they use a continuous shuffle machine so it is very difficult to gain an edge against them. Table minimums are very low. When I played the minimum was 20 pesos, which is slightly more than one american dollar. Aside from blackjack they also have a Texas hold’em carnival game, three card poker and a S17 blackjack switch game which is also dealt from a CSM. Smoking is allowed in the casino. They also have an actual Texas Hold’em game. The blinds are 25/50 with a minimum buy in of 1000 pesos and a maximum buy-in of 5000 pesos. The game runs roughly 5 nights a week (Monday and Tuesday being the days it might not run) and starts in the evening.
Next on the hit list was the Royal Yak located in the Plaza Las Americas centro comercial (mall). It is actually just a few minutes walk from Dubai Palace to Royal Yak although you must cross some well trafficked roads. Royal Yak’s games open around 3:30 but they too were all CSM and H17 to boot.
Finally there is Casino Palace Bingo & Sports Bets Cancun. This casino is also located near the other two just slightly north of the Las Americas mall and on the other side of several lanes of main arterial streets. The roads are actually not that difficult to cross because everything is one way and you have the opportunity to wait for a lull in traffic and then wait at an island area. There are “crosswalks” but the cars do not actually stop at them. Here I finally found a shoe game, with limits of 50-1000 pesos. They also have as of the time this article was written a promotion where if you exchange 1000 pesos you get a 100 peso match-play chip.
The rules were identical to Dubai Palace except that the game is ENHC. The house edge for this game is 0.3%. They cut off three decks out of six, making the game rather unappealing. It was at least uncrowded; for most of the two hours that I played the game was heads up, although there was one other player who joined me briefly a couple of times. They also run Texas Hold’em tournaments here in the evening although there are no cash games.
At all of the casinos it is required to register with your passport and sign up for their player’s card to play. There is also a cashout tax of 1% of your profits for table games. Unlike the Panamanian tax the chips that you buy are not counted against you here, you are only taxed on your winnings. Obviously the prevalence of CSM games here in the Yucatan province is a little disheartening as is the poor penetration at Casino Palace however the extremely generous rules are a very good sign.
The last casino in Cancun is located in the Zona Hotelera or Hotel Zone and is known as Red Casino. Taxis to and throughout the Hotel Zone are prohibitively expensive, but the bus only costs twelve pesos (around sixty cents). Unfortunately there was some trouble at the casino as the security guard would not let me onto the premises.
Undeterred I simply walked 100 feet down the road and sneaked in through the golf course. The casino staff were more than happy to welcome me, as to them I appeared like nothing more than just another North American tourist here for a week of partying and relaxation. Compared to the games downtown, this was a veritable oasis.
There was only one table on the bottom floor. The limits were very small, allowing bets of 20 to 200 pesos (1 to 10 dollars). Most counters would scuff at such a low stakes game but I didn’t mind as the rules were excellent. The full rule-set is S17, DAS, DA2, RSA, ENHC, ES10. The cut was a generous 1.5 decks. The house edge with these rules is %0.24. Playing with such a low house edge, and with the very favourable ES10 rule that greatly reduces your variance, is great because it means your advantage at lower true counts is significantly higher. The ENHC is not ideal of course, but this too reduces your variance and is more than compensated by the other great rules. Initially the game was heads up but eventually some other players joined my table so I went to explore the upstairs. Note, there is no Mexican peso ATM in the casino, although you can find an American dollar ATM in the hotel lobby next door.
On the second floor they have another four black tables, all with higher limits. They had two 100-1000 games and two 50-500 games. Again these limits are in Mexican pesos. They also have a 10/20 NLHE game (again, pesos) with a $1000 MXN minimum buy in but I was there for quite some time on a Thursday evening and it did not run. All in all it was a great relief to find a reasonable game in Cancun although given the absurdly tiny table limits you probably won’t want to head here strictly for blackjack, even if flights to Cancun are pretty cheap. Tables open at 11 am and run until six in the morning; expect to see a lot of drunk Americans doing ludicrous things like hitting on hard seventeen. The casino is also staffed with an inordinate number of very attractive Mexican women.
Unlike at the downtown casinos you can play anonymously at the Red casino, and there was no cashout tax.