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Panama's Best Casino: Uncensored

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Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 19 December 2006 17:09
The Veneto Casino in El Cangrejo is, ailment in our opinion, Panama City's best casino. Here's what they don't want you to know: the good, and the bad, and the ugly. (*Note: new management has recently taken over the Veneto Casino and we plan on doing a follow-up assuming that they've improved most of the following) When the Veneto arrived in Panama, as the country's finest casino, people welcomed it with open arms—the flashing façade appearing, like a super magnet, to lure vacationers and locals through its electrifying lobby and into its pleasurable core. The hotel rooms seemed to be first rate, the food came off as mildy innovative, and the staff appeared to genuinely appreciate the fact that you were there. Sitting at a lucky poker table one night, I recall overhearing a woman whispering to her husband, the way that you might upon letting someone in on a secret: “They're giving away free money” the woman said. “Go to the room and get that extra cash under the bed.” Now that I knew where they were hiding their money, I was tempted to beat the man to the room, and steal it. But moreover, this incident nudged me to look at the past, present, and future of this giant casino beast.

Via Veneto looked at first, to be the perfect stomping ground to give away free money: a street begging for a serious and urgent facelift. A street with the potential to become the the new Calle Uruguay or ‘area bancaria', in a city where downtown repositions itself every couple years. What happened instead though, was that the dregs of the Veneto—that is, the unfortunate byproduct of having a Las Vegas-style casino with glitches in a third world city—started spilling out of the lobby and into the streets.

Hard line taxi drivers started belligerently hounding gringos with the kind of offers that I once reserved for dark bullet-pocked side streets: propositioning vacationers for sex, drugs, and, according to one man, “all the beers that you could ever want to drink in your whole life.” Beggars—a low-class yet very observant breed—began their stints on Via Veneto as well, one amputee after another damning you to hell if you didn't buy their kid a Big Mac. Little boys selling lollypops learned to perfect their puppy dog faces down to the tear. The dim, crack-riddled walls of the buildings on Via Veneto began to cast this eerie glow on the pawn shops, cell phone accessory stores, and general filth that started to collect below. Why can't someone clean this street up?

Not unlike a dysfunctional marriage, the new and exciting sheen at the Veneto wore off by its first anniversary: customer service took a plunge, shameless Btesh real estate advertisements sprung up, and the ugly side of prostitution (no pun intended) reared its head, one perky silicone teat at a time. As a regular at the casino and a paid member at the “Las Vegas style” spa, pool, and fitness center, I slowly started to see a gamut of glitches that—while keeping the Veneto from being truly first rate—were also downright annoying and a constant reminder that indeed, I was still in Panama.

Regular 45+ minute delivery times on my food at the pool bar and Bet ‘n Win area led me to believe that the kitchen was perhaps actually hunting down the meat for my nachos? Come on guys, how hard is it to throw together a garden salad? The hotel rooms and services still noteworthy, but not by any means spectacular. They could use a lesson from The Bristol in the attention-to-detail department.

The resident hookers are fun to an extent: they're like a wild zebra which the safari-going vacationers find exotic and untamed, however, there's something to be said (or maybe kept quiet) about prostitutes calling you from the lounge area as you check in on your first day. Additionally, I once heard one of the floor managers arguing first with two employees over something petty, and then with a hooker over money—now that's pathetic. Common guys, why not tone down the public embarrassment and keep the prostitution at a whispering avant-garde will ya? Oh and please keep out the transvestites while you're at it. That's just like throwing gasoline on a fire.

I'm also consistently disappointed that the Veneto doesn't have a concierge. No, I'm not talking about uninformed teenagers who sit behind the tour desks handing out brochures for the Panama Canal.

I once tested one of these girls, posing as a vacationer. “What tour would you recommend I take today? I need activities to occupy me until 7 tonight?”
“Um, the only thing I can think of is the Panama Canal transit” she said.
“But isn't that over by lunch time?” I asked.
“Well, you could always take the Canal transit three or four times.”

To be truly “five star”, I want some well-researched amigo who can get me reservations to the big fight or a table at the top restaurant at the drop of a dime. I want a concierge who can find me the nicest diamond in the city for my anniversary-visiting girlfriend. In general, customer service could be vastly improved, but in reality, it has been sufficient because Panamanians regard the service industry about as highly as they do the concept of sobriety. With the onslaught of American tourists over the next years though, these will be interesting changes to watch out for, to see if the Veneto lives up to its name, offering “superior customer service” as the “most friendly, elegant, and luxurious casino in Latin America.”

It wouldn't be fair to bash on the Veneto without pointing out all the glorious things that keep me coming back. The Bamboo Sea Spa, for starters is a haven. The massages and salon services are about a seven out of ten but the social area, pool deck, and gym equipment are done to the tee. Further, the Veneto always maintains this certain level of nonchalance which is always appreciated in my book. No attitude. They don't mind if you're wearing a bathing suit or wearing sandals, and for that, gringos the world-over are thankful. The drink specials are booze-tacular and a select handful of the waiters are wholeheartedly on top of their game. As happens in any crowded nightlife setting, it can be tough to get the attention of a barmaid on a Friday night, especially when Mr. Docksiders and his scotch-sipping cronies won't move aside, but all in all, the Veneto is a Star Wars bar—people from all walks of life show up and have a good time.

All these guidebook and websites who say the Veneto is a five-star hotel are kidding themselves. It's not a five-star hotel. At least yet. The sites that say the Veneto is built to accommodate the “sophisticated business traveler” are on crack: there's not even a fax machine in the business center! To see for yourself, check out their website which appears to have been translated to English by someone with two broken hands.

Hasky did an admirable job opening and running perhaps Panama's best casino ever, but that feat couldn't have been all that hard. The Veneto's first year has been characterized by a lot of good things, among them decent revenue and significant press. It's time now though, for someone new to take over and to caulk all the cracks which Hasky and his crew left behind. To lift up the Veneto and its employees from Hasky's autocratic wake. Whether the Veneto Casino and Hotel becomes a spectacle or not, you'll probably still find me, schmoozing at the craps table with Henry Hawaiian shirt and Franklin fanny pack, there for the same reason everyone else is. Because of the free money they're giving away.
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I agree
written by Me , September 16, 2007
Yes...the Veneto, a pretender in the five star stakes..the hookers at the sushi bar are always good to laugh and look at...maybe they should rename it the silicone bar!As for the casino itself,well its getting drab and boring and whats with the security guys trying to look like MIB?
I sympathise about the eating area...yes,it really does take 45 minutes to get your meal,thats after 20 minutes waiting for someone to serve you.....put all those negatives aside for a moment,net result is that its still better than some so called luxery brand hotel chains.
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Protocal at Veneto
written by Danny , September 23, 2007
I have stayed at the Veneto many times but have never tried to retain one of the young ladies for the evening. What is the protocal? Is it best to go through an employee of the hotel? If so, who? And what is a going price for a good in room massage, etc. And is a tip appropriate and how much ??

I will be staying there again after the first of the year.

Thanks,

Danny
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Dannycomment
written by GringoLoco , October 23, 2007
Danny, there's really no protocol. You simply go hang out in the casino area by the bar, start up a chat with one of the clearly-labeled ones, and they take care of the rest. Trust me. No hotel employees or even dinner or drinks needed (unless you want to that is). PRices probably vary depending on time and looks, but I'd say $100-$400 is a safe bet.
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Service in Panama?
written by Edison , November 02, 2007
Panama is an Indian word meaning "incompetent service"

Talk about the manana attitude first discovered in Mexico, Panama takes it to a new dimension.

The service at the Veneto is, in a word, horrible.

But, its not that much worse than any other place you
will find in the city.

You want really bad service? go the the interior where everybody is narcoleptic.

What makes the Veneto so bad, is that it presents itself as a
first class operation, not until you order something that you
realize how rag-tag and poorly managed the place really is.
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Mr
written by Richard Brice , December 07, 2007
I think you have to make a few allowances for the location! Looking forward to coming to Panama next year, in the meantime I'm working in India and I would definitely not go there for a holiday.
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Not close to 5 star star
written by C , February 19, 2008
The hotel is not bad for PC, if you want better service stay at the Marriott.
If you want to meet girls stay at the Veneto. Be careful with the Colombianas, which are 90% of them, show up at 11-12pm on a Friday night, the amount of women is amazing, some them dressed in some pretty wild outfits.
Just stand by the bar with drink in hand. Most are not aggresive, just make eye contact and start up a conversation.
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Gingoloco
written by Bubba , March 06, 2008
What do u get for $100?
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veneto
written by david , March 30, 2008
re: the food service there, it is horrible. actually beyond horrible, even for a 1 star hotel. don't do it. go right across the street to Manolos. 24 hours. they get busy but the waiting there, esp outside, is enjoyable with it's local flavor. likely to hook up with a local chica there.
re: las chicas. when I was first there this feb, there were a lot of chicas in the casino area. when i returned 2 weeks later, there were no chicas in the casino. a couple colombianas at the sushi bar downstairs. by the way, tell maria i love her. something happened and the girls weren't allowed upstairs in the casino area anymore.
bubba, you should do just fine with 100, if you know what you're doing. just be sure to let them know you are willing to give them tips if deserved!!!
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...
written by Frank , June 25, 2008
God. You're all just a bunch of horny old men wanting to get laid. Disgusting.
Panama being a third world country? It's a country in development.
People in the interior being narcoleptic? They work very hard. Plowing fields, making artesanal products..In a few words, way more than many of you have ever worked in your entire lives behind a desk. Of course there are drunks and people who are irresponsible and don't work, but there are people like that everywhere.
Seriously. I was glad with the fact that Panama was getting international attention and attracting more tourists, but it's amazing how foreigners just talk trash about Panama. Every single mistake, exaggerated. It's not like the US is so AMAZING and conflict-free for the Americans to judge us so freely. You don't like Panama? Then just leave.
The fact that many tourists and foreigners think that they truly KNOW everything about Panamenian culture and way of living. Of course, it has many flaws and I agree that matters such as corruption are out of hand, but you have no right to generalize and judge. I know many Panamenians who are extremely smart and know what is best for this country.
Just because you people meet hookers and random people in the street, it doesn't mean that all of the Panamenians are this way.

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Frank is Right, well mostly
written by Marcus , July 01, 2008
Now I am not going to say I didn't travel to Panama City and to enjoy the views in Veneto but I was amazed by all the Dirty Old (Married possibly) men in there chasing skirts. I am a single 26 year old so I can taste the product. You have to understand culture before you invade a place. The US standards that we try to judge other countries by are just as horrible as we claim we see abroad. The US is still a very racist, prejudice and hateful place and we can not judge others until we attempt to fix or own problems. Now with that said I will have to agree with one point, I travel to Mexico a lot and I have never experienced service as bad in Mexico as I experienced in Panama. It almost felt like I was in the US and they didn't want to serve me at all. Are there "colored" only restaurants that I don't know about?
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3 points
written by Chris , July 07, 2008
First of all I don't know which places you all have been in Mexico, but the ones I have (Guadalajara, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta) I have had amazing service, and I am not talking five star hotels or anything like that. Second, I am Panamenian and I'm not offended by foreigners criticizing Panama, because we as Panamenians have a habit of doing it all the time. Third Tourism is a fairly new industry in Panama and it will take many years and training until Panama can offer decent service, in the meantime I often reward good service with a above average tip like 15% bad service 5% or less. And one last thing on the Veneto don't expect world class service and excellent food from places plagued with prostitutes and sketchy people you are not in Las Vegas.
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...
written by Allen , August 07, 2008
Chris: You´re right on the money. Service in Panama sucks, but it sucks in a lot of more developed places -- like NYC and Paris. If you want 5 star service, you will have to go to Hong Kong, where they really understand what it means. As for Panama, we aren´t here for the service. I don´t know anyone who moved to Panama because he heard how wonderful the service was. We´re here for the sun, the great climate and the relaxed lifestyle. This is a manana culture. We may not be crazy about that part of being in Panama, but, guess what? It´s their country, and they can have sloppy service if they want. I don´t like everything about Panama. Some things drive me insane, e.g. the fact that truth is an optional part of many business dealings here. The fact is, though, that we are the ones who need to adapt to their culture as long as we wish to stay here, just as we require them to adapt to our cultures when they move to our home countries. That´s just the way life works. Get used to it.
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How dare you compare ...
written by Steven , August 12, 2009
Service in NYC is not great but it's not terrible either.
Service in Paris can be bad but it's usually great if you are cultured and you can speak french properly, they just don't like us when we come yelling in our beloved English.
Panama's service just sucks, whether you talk to them in spanish, english or your favorite language because it's in their blood: they just don't give a damn.
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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 21:10
 
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