Cuban gambling history shows it went from cock-fighting to elite casinos and then after the revolution to an illegal lottery run by the mobsters.
The History of Cuba
The story of local gambling history cannot be told without telling the story of Cuba itself. If you only want to read about local gambling history please scroll down.
Prior to the Revolution
During colonial times Cuba was a Spanish Colony trading much in the same way as other colonies. Cuba was trading sugar, there were plantations all over the Islands.
When the Spanish-American war ended in 1898 the losers, Spain were forced to sign away their rights to Cuba. The US took over control but Cuba was soon granted independence if they granted a perpetual lease to the US for a naval base, now known as Guantanamo Bay.
After independence the US maintained a close relationship with Cuba and thy invested heavily in the economy for the next half a century.
All was well until 1959 when Fidel Castro and his band of guerillas took over and ousted the Cuban Government. Despite the brutal coup the US recognised Castro initially until he started seizing land and nationalising the private companies. Some of those companies were subsidiaries of US Corporations. He soon became an enemy of the US after he heavily taxed American imports. The US responded with a strict trade embargo. Cubans depended heavily on American imports so the country literally crashed into poverty with virtually no other trade agreements in place. Cuban gambling history was about to open another chapter.
Fidel Castro became a huge annoyance to the US and relations further deteriorated. The CIA botched an attempted ground attack to overthrow Castro using trained Cuban exiles. Later between 1961 and 1963 there were no less than five attempts to assassinate Castro. Tensions between Cuba and the US grew and went out of control after American spy planes discovered Soviet missile bases were being built in Cuba. Thankfully, tensions were defused by diplomatic means.
Life became so hard for Cubans by 1980 that as many as 125,000 fled to the US by boat seeking Asylum. It was not until 2001 when the US agreed to again sell food to Cuba. That followed the hardship caused by Hurricane Michelle. Since then co-operation has continued and now diplomatic tensions have considerably eased.
The impact of the recent death of Fidel Castro remains to be seen.
Cuban Gambling History
Gambling was a huge part of Cuban life prior to the revolution. Gambling history began traditionally, Cubans would gamble on cock-fighting, horse racing and jai alai, a racquet and ball game. They played games of chance for money like cards and dominoes. None of these forms of gambling were ever legalised in Cuba.
During the 1920’s, the American influence brought illegal casinos. Many hotels were constructed for tourists arriving mostly from the US. Nearly all of them had casinos and they were run by American mobsters. Government officials at the time were corrupt so it was not difficult for the mobsters develop gambling facilities in Cuba. This was a big part of Cuban gambling history.
The many casinos, like the Riviera, the Capri, the Tropicana and the Havana Hilton were frequented mostly by American tourists. The attraction was to enjoy a bit of Caribbean hispanic culture in an upmarket environment. Bear in mind, at the time gambling laws in the USA had severely restricted gambling. So, it was a very big attraction to embark on a gambling holiday. For the rich Americans, there were soon regular flights to Cuba as aviation took off. By the 1950’s there were hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Cubans were free to visit casinos but only the wealthy could afford to play. Most could not even comply with the strict dress code. Minimum betting requirements in the casinos would also prevent most Cubans from gambling. However the locals did benefit from the many jobs created in the tourism service industries.
The Gambling Ban
After the revolution of 1959, Fidel Castro eliminated all forms of gambling. The Cuban lottery, known as “the Bolita” continues to operate underground, run by mobsters. Cubans place their bets with known runners who are not unlicensed. Since there is no official national lottery the winning numbers are taken from the Venezuela National Lottery.
Needless to say online gambling in Cuba is not legal but it does make you wonder if there are any Cubans enjoying an internet bet. Prohibiting online gambling can only be controlled technically by censoring websites or controlling bank transactions.
Read more about modern day Havana in Cuba
Read more about gambling laws in the Americas including the Caribbean: