Many players consider visiting or relocating to Manila for poker, but might be hesitant for a whole manner of reasons, some valid, some mythical: Is it safe? Are the games good? What’s the cost of living? Do they speak English? Is it hot? If you’ve asked any of those questions, then this article is for you.

Well I did it – and it was a great decision. I moved to Manila to pursue my passion for the game. Luckily for me, my good friend had been coming here for years and kindly served as my tour guide. I’ve been enjoying Manila and the Philippines for years now, playing poker the entire time, so I’m somewhat qualified now to be a tour guide myself.

Oh, should mention, only Manila has a significant poker scene although games can be found in other cities.

Here is the low down.

 

Orientation

You’ll land at the airport, which has 3 or 4 terminals, each with a different exit. Some terminals have long taxi queues. So consider grab or pay a lot extra for a private taxi. The drivers will find you outside the terminals.

This map is really all you need:

There are 4 areas of interest to poker players in Manila.

  • Resorts World

Resorts World is right by the airport. It is a complex of condominiums, hotels, shops, restaurants and of course a large casino. You can land, walk across and start gambling in 5 mins. The casino is 24 hour cash games running and is one of the more popular places to play. You can book a hotel or airbnb with 5 min from the casino, year round.

  • Entertainment City

This area built on reclaimed land by Manila Bay is burgeoning with condos, malls, shops and houses 3 international casinos so far. Okada is the newest and they have the Pokerstars Live room (previously in City of Dreams), with cash games and small daily tournaments. Solaire has a 24 hour cash room. City of Dreams does not have poker, at the time of writing. The famous Mall of Asia lives here.

  • Malate

A fascinating area in Manila is Malate. Currently there are 2 poker clubs, Masters and Dynasty, both running cash games, usually starting in the late afternoon and finishing in the early hours, with the occasional small tournament. Malate has a large mall, the Supreme Court, the US Embassy, the University of the Philippines and more hostess karaoke bars then you can count.

  • Makati and Bonifacio Global City (BGC)

Although no poker right here, they are the more upmarket, well-developed locales for business and living, especially for expats. Worth a mention is the Metrocard Poker Club, just outside of Makati. It has 24/7 cash games, daily tournaments and is very popular amongst locals.

 

Is Manila hot?

Manila is a hot tropical city, with traffic and pollution that further heats up the roads and air. The temperature is hot all year around, with summer months very hot, rainy months sticky and a few months slightly milder. How hot? You’ll never need to wear more than a shirt while outside. I lived in Bangkok before; Bangkok is hotter. I lived in Sydney before, and Sydney summers are worse. On the plus, most places you’ll be are air conditioned, most condos have swimming pools, and dress codes are lax. There is a rainy season which starts around June typically and lasts 2 or 3 months. Overall, the heat shouldn’t be a deterrent for a budding poker player.

 

Do they speak English in Manila?

Yes. Wherever you play poker, English will be spoken well. Further, English is widespread in government, education, businesses, restaurants, stores and nearly everywhere. Many Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese people play here and get by with limited English without any hiccups. Occasionally you won’t be understood, but with a little patience or help from a friendly local, you’ll get by. Further, many locals enjoy speaking English and are not shy.

 

Is Manila safe?

A more specific question to ask is, can I feel and be safe as a poker player in Manila? From my experience and all my friends here, that’s an easy yes. I feel safer here than in my home city of Sydney, where unprovoked drug-fueled violence is common as are nanny-state fines and penalties. Oops, getting off track.  You should have no safety issues in casinos and poker rooms, and can take taxis and grab without incident, and can live in a well-guarded condo. In 3 years I’ve never been assaulted physically by a local and never had to be looking over my shoulder. But there are provisos:

  1. Travel to unsafe parts of Manila and you are danger. The unsafe parts are well known and you’d have no reason to go there unless invited by a local.
  2. Be naive and go off with people you don’t know offering you lunch or a great deal, and you’ll find yourself in trouble.
  3. Stand up vocally or physically for your grand rights as a free citizen of the Western world, and you’ll make enemies quickly. Humility goes a long way.
  4. Flash your cash and you’ll be calling the birds of prey. Keep a low profile.
  5. Generally taxis are safe, even if you hold cash, although some drivers can be grumpy. Or take Grab, which has terrific drivers and cars.

Is accomodation expensive in Manila?

You can either way on this. Local living is bargain-basement cheap. The more Western standards you seek, the higher the price gets. Also, location matters. Your choices are:

  • Thousands of hotels
  • Airbnb
  • Short term rentals
  • Long term rentals

High end hotels are cheaper than elsewhere and the casinos all have various hotels attached. Starting at around US$150/night. Mid-end and low-end hotels are not great value. From US$30/night but the rooms are generally very small for what you pay. Airbnb is the best option for newcomers. Quite easy to find a condo at nightly or weekly rates. There are many within walking distance from the casinos. As a guide, a newish furnished condo near the main casinos will cost around US$500 to U$800 per month.

How about entertainment in Manila?

Finding your where to satisfy your cravings is part of the adventure isn’t it? Casinos? Check. Bars? Check. Girls? Check. Restaurants? Check. Massage? Check.

How about travel out of Manila?

Philippines is resplendent with holiday getaways, and all can be reached within a few hours. For starters, consider Boracay, the world-famous white sand beach. Then there is Palawan island and it’s gorgeous swimming holes and waterfalls. Closer to Manila is Puerto Galera, with beaches, forests and diving. Travel around Philippines is well covered on the web. Do keep in mind the traffic in Manila is horrific, so quick day trips are not so simple.

What are the locals like?

Filipinos at poker are fully accepting of visitors and foreigners playing. They welcome a mix of Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Westerners and players from anywhere else. A typical cash table might have 5 locals and 3 foreigners. many locals are glad to strike up a friendly conversation, but don’t expect invitations over for dinner.

Is the field soft?

Come and find out… haha. I believe the games are not particularly difficult here in Manila. Sometimes you’ll find a table full of regs, but sometimes you’ll find a table full of fish.

In Manila, do they play mostly cash or tournaments?

Both! 24/7 cash games are found at Resorts World, Okada, Solaire and Metrocard club. Cash games also at Masters, Dynasty, Let’s all-in poker.

Daily tournaments currently run at Okada (Pokerstars) and Metrocard club.

Regional tournament series including Pokerstars Megastack, Pokerstars APPT, the Asian Poker Tour and others also are hosted in Manila. Usually there is one tournament series for about 10 days hosted each month.

How big are the games?

Manila has it all! Games start at some local clubs at 10/20 peso, which is US20/40c. Amazing right? These games are perfect for beginners wanting to get some low-stress quantity practice. The average is 25/50 peso (US50c/$1). Then regs tend to play 100/200 peso. Often games for 200/500 peso, occasionally 200/500/1000 peso. Bigger games are run too, but ad hoc depending on player demand. Games played are no-limit hold’em and PLO games can run deep too.

Are there private and home games?

I believe there are private and home games, sometimes held in hotels. You’ll need to network with the regulars and the tables to find yourself invited. These games often have high profile locals playing or wealthier Chinese holiday makers.

I hope you find this article informative and encouraging enough for you to come and try poker in Manila! See you here.

Ozy