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Agua Caliente Racetrack and Casino

by Matthew Bynes

Admittedly, I am one of those many Americans who frequently come to Baja California in order to explore the wilder, more adventurous side of my personality. A weekend spent in Baja for me always ends up as a blur of nightclubs, beach parties, bikini-clad women and endless empty bottles of tequila. I have also tried bungee jumping, trekking, desert biking and scuba diving with hammerhead sharks in Baja. This last spring break however, I found another chancy and exhilarating activity that I could add to my growing list of Baja adventures.

During my final week in Tijuana, my friends and I happen to pass by the Agua Caliente Casino and Hotel on our way to a beach party. Having a few bucks to spare, we tried our hands on a little gambling at the casino just to see how different a casino in Baja is from those in Las Vegas. We were expecting a rather small casino that is almost empty of patrons since it was a bright and beautiful day and the waters along the shores are glistening blue. In short, it was a really nice day to waste indoors instead of at the beach where all the other people are. But surprise surprise, the Agua Caliente Casino was jammed packed full of richly dressed betters and tourists in Hawaiian shirts. The sight of so many excited, smiling faces and the sound of whoops and cheers issuing from almost every betting table and slot machine was enough to lure us. We quickly went to have a couple of dollars exchanged for chips and proceeded to gamble for more than two hours.

Thankfully, I didn’t bring all the money I have with me since the level of my enjoyment that day was high enough to make me uncharacteristically like a giddy little daredevil. One of my friends won a decent amount from a slot machine and I won $200 from a round of Black Jack. We spent the money pigging out in the restaurant of the Agua Caliente Casino and Hotel and we even had enough money left to rent suite for an overnight stay.

Later on at that same day, we were lounging in one of the hotel’s whirl pool jacuzzi while sipping champagne and watching the sun dip under the rose colored Pacific Ocean. We were talking of visiting the hotel’s bar later on that night when a friendly deck hotel staff member carrying a stack of towels told us of the existence of the Agua Caliente Racetrack.

From what I have been told by the hotel concierge, the Agua Caliente Racetrack existed way back in the late 1920’s. Like many racetracks during its time, the Agua Caliente Racetrack was the venue for betting on race horses. However, the racetrack now features greyhounds and no more race horses. He also said that during the period of prohibition in the United States, many Hollywood stars, politicians and rich businessmen from America would go to the Agua Caliente to gamble in the casino, drink in the hotel bar and bet in the race track, things they could not legally do in the United States. Since I and my friends have never seen a greyhound race in all our lives before, we went to the Agua Caliente Racetrack to see one and to try our luck at betting.

We did see a greyhound race, although the betting part did not really go all that well. Unlike horse races, they greyhound race seemed to occur faster to me. The tall, long-legged dogs were very agile creatures, and their light weight seemed to make it easier for them to run at such a great speed. I was expecting that a real live rabbit would be released and the dogs would chase after it, but the race that I saw used a dummy bunny which was connected to a contraption that made it run the length of the racetrack at a fast pace. Unfortunately, we did not bet on the right dog seeing I guess that beginner’s luck was not on our side that night. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable Baja experience and I am certain we will return to Agua Caliente in Tijuana for another go at the racetracks.

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