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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 trip reports this year from casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut, I decided to venture down to Costa Rica in August. An opportunity came up to stay at the luxurious Riu Palace in Guanacaste, with its MaunaLoa Casino among the property's five-star all-inclusive environment.

Guanacaste is located in the northern part of Costa Rica, with the Riu Palace just a 30-40 minute drive from Quiros International Airport in Liberia. The property contains both the Riu Palace and Riu Guanacaste hotels, with the MaunaLoa Casino just a few steps away for gambling action.

I have visited Costa Rica once or twice per year since 2002, with quite a few casinos and sportsbooks being part of my itinerary. Most casinos in Costa Rica have a much smaller feel to them than what you will experience in the United States. You will usually have all the action in one room, making for an intimate and entertaining experience.

MaunaLoa Casino (Playa Matapalo, Guanacaste - Costa Rica)

MaunaLoa is no exception to the typical casino environment in these parts, and is open 6pm to 3am local time each night. The room of action is split between slot machines on one side, while a variety of table games exist on the other. Tables consist of blackjack, Three Card Poker, canasta (roulette), and several live poker games.

Blackjack can be a "hit or miss" when it comes to Costa Rica's casinos, but I found the MaunaLoa to be one of the best for low-stakes play. Some gambling rooms in the country feature "rummy" instead of blackjack, which can have a variety of less-favorable rules. MaunaLoa caters well to United States tourists with its blackjack conditions stacking up as well as some of the top shoe games in Atlantic City or Las Vegas.

When I arrived in the casino, the room had more liveliness then I would expect for a weeknight. A Texas Hold'Em tournament was happening at the live poker tables, while the sole blackjack table was empty. I asked about the blackjack rules before buying in and all sounded good with the dealer staying on soft 17's, as well as double downs allowed on any two cards. One gotcha was surrender is not offered, while the allowed betting ranged from a $10 minimum to a rather sparse $100 maximum.

An added perk is the dealer has to...

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