Cuba FlagIf you think of Cuba then it’s likely that one of two things will pop into your head: rum or cigars. The island is known for both of them, with John F. Kennedy reportedly ordering a box full of Cuban cigars before ordering a trade embargo between the United States of America and Cuba in 1962. You won’t think of casinos because there aren’t any on the island because it’s illegal to gamble. It’s also know for the Bay Of Pigs and the being the location of Guantanamo Bay, but the cigars and the rum seems somehow more pleasant.

The Republic of Cuba consists both of the main island itself as well as Isla de la Juventud and some small archipelagos. It is governed by the Communist Party of Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro until his death in 2011. The capital of Havana is known for its rum, with Havana Club being as readily available as bottled water. Bacardi was also founded in Cuba before the Cuban revolution came and the company moved to Bermuda. It is an island soaked in history, should you wish to explore it, or built for relaxation if you’d rather just do that.

The History of Cuban Casinos & Gambling

Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba (SCPhotog /

Nowadays you won’t find any casinos in Cuba for the simple reason that it’s illegal to gamble on the island. That wasn’t always the case, however, with the American mob briefly seeing the island as a place that they could set up something of a criminal empire. The likes of Meyer Lansky and Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano tried to set up their gambling enterprises in Cuba and succeeding in doing so until the Cuban Revolution changed everything on the island.

There were a number of mob casinos in the country’s capital city of Havana, with none other than Frank Sinatra used as a draw for the various venues. If you watch the Hollywood movie The Godfather Part II there’s a scene in which members of the mob meet on a rooftop somewhere in Havana, which was at least partly based on real life. Mob bosses did meet at the Hotel Nacional in 1946 and planned to flood the country with dirty money for hotels and casinos.

Writer T.J. English believes that it’s difficult to talk about the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba without also chronicling the story of the Havana Mob. This is because of the manner in which the mob became something of a symbol for the ‘revolution of exploitation by outside forces’. The idea that Cuba was unable to control its own destiny can be summed up by the influence of the mob, the US government and corporations from the United States, according to English.

To put it another way, Cuba’s fight against gambling and casinos can be seen as part of the battle between Castro and his Communist ideals and the influence of America. They were commonplace from the 1920s onwards as Cuba began to become a tourism spot, but they died away almost immediately after Castro’s revolution and his decision to ban all forms of gambling on the island. Cubans still do it, of course, but in secret and it’s likely to remain that way.