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By Joe "Reload" Freda

Joe Freda has been an avid gambler and writer for the past two decades, covering casino and sports wagering. His efforts include several years of articles at Sportsbook Review and Don Best Sports, while enjoying trips for blackjack, craps, and poker throughout North and Central America. Freda can be reached at or through Twitter (@ReloadSports).


After my visit to the MaunaLoa Casino in Costa Rica this past August, I laid low for a while and looked ahead to Super Bowl weekend for my next gambling strike. Most would think sports gambling's biggest event would be best spent in Las Vegas, but I headed to Hard Rock Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for sun and fun instead.

I visited Hard Rock Punta Cana two years ago at the same time for the classic New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks finish in Super Bowl XLIX. Ironically, it would be another Patriots' appearance for this trip, while mixing in a festive poker tournament and some walks through the casino floor.

Hard Rock Punta Cana (Turistico del Esta, Dominican Republic)

Hard Rock Punta Cana is an all-inclusive destination and among the highest-end of accommodations you will find in the Dominican Republic. The entire property is all suites with even my lowest-tier one having a Jacuzzi in its spacious quarters. You will find no shortage of Presidente beer and local rums like Ron Barcelo, while a large variety of restaurants give you a choice of cuisine.

My first surprise on this trip was the suite being decorated with a "Love" package of sorts, with many flower petals dispersed on the bed and Jacuzzi. The staff is as thoughtful and creative as you will find, with the housekeepers visiting twice a day to keep you happy. I routinely had chocolate kisses left on my bed each night, while they kept my refrigerator fully stocked with all kinds of beverages. Liquor dispensers are also at your disposal. (I was even left a bottle of sparkling wine.)

The property has many activities, with the center of its party atmosphere being the Eden Pool. You will find guests from all over indulging in a "day club" environment, and free-flowing drinks of all sorts. One time a server had so many shots of liquor to bring out, she balanced a few of them on her head. At night, the "Oro" club is the site's hottest spot, while other bars and areas are prime for mingling and relaxing.

The "Gambling Eve" of Super Bowl Sunday

I arrived on the eve of Super Bowl LI and made the rounds in the casino and sports book. The big board showed New England was a three-point favorite, while the ‘total' points scored by both teams stood at 58. Hard Rock's sports book also had your usual array of basketball, hockey, and UFC fighting to wager on. Many televisions, combined with decent seating, made this a convenient place to settle in for a couple of hours and plan out the rest of my trip.

A quick walk through the casino saw the blackjack and craps tables busy with patrons trying to build their bankrolls for the "Big Game." Several $500-minimum blackjack tables were tucked away in the casino's "Salon Prive" room with high rollers. (There was a party that Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre was hosting the next day for them.) While I did not get to meet the legendary quarterback, two years ago I did run into former Miami Dolphins receiver Jim "Crash" Jensen in the casino here. You never know who you will see (or meet) at Hard Rock!

The blackjack conditions remained...

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