With its sun, sea and sand, Costa Rica has more than earned its longstanding international reputation as the ’Switzerland of Central America’, particularly Playa Jaco (Jaco Beach). This 2.5km strip of golden sands on the way to San Jose has long been a paradise for surfers, tourists, business travelers and those seeking a more relaxed and pleasurable way of life. In the last 6 years another demographic has made this paradise their home, a group of Americans seeking a safe place to do what they do best – the Poker Refugees.
It was estimated that between 1200 and 2000 professional online American players chose the option to resettle and continue to play. Many went to Canada, no doubt due to its proximity and cultural similarities to the US. New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and Mexico also took their share of the more adventurous players. Then there were those who came to Costa Rica, a place that is known for being friendly and open to visitors and travelers from all walks of life.
With the likes of Crocs Casino and Hotel open to visitors, Costa Rica and Jaco Beach offers its inhabitants a relaxed way of life with stunning views and heavenly beaches, but to these poker refugees it also had another draw – Costa Rica has a strong casino culture. Since the poker boom of 2003 with the development of global poker tournaments like World Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker, casinos in the country have played host to some of the greatest professionals and aspiring amateurs. Crocs Casino in Jaco has an international reputation in the poker community, and global online casino brand Poker Stars has an operations center situated in the nearby Santa Ana.
Native Costa Ricans have also made their mark as professional poker players, headed by veteran poker pro Humberto ‘The Shark’ Brenes. Born and raised in San Jose, Brenes has been a regular on the pro poker circuit since the mid-70s after making a switch from baccarat. He has since amassed over $6 million in winnings, made the final tables of 3 World Poker Tours and won 2 World Series of Poker bracelets. He was also a member of Team PokerStars and is one of the few veteran players to play online, under the moniker ‘HumbertoB’. It’s no wonder then that so many young US online players feel the pull of destiny to play and reside in Costa Rica.
As for the future of Jaco’s poker refugees it remains uncertain. Legislation has been passed by three states in the US (Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada) so online poker is starting to slowly return to the US marketplace. Regardless, many players have settled into life in Jaco Beach and have formed a close-knit community that draws comparisons to the expat community in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Its not uncommon to see some of the younger US expat players sharing houses in the area, whilst older players have purchased second family properties so it seems that these poker refugees may well have found themselves a place to call home.