Uruguay (The Vices): Gambling, Prostitution, and Drugs

Written by   (author of Obvious Conclusions)

There are three things that are legal (well, one is semi-legal) in Uruguay that you may not be able to do at home:  Gambling, Prostitution, and Drugs.  With such vice-availability, I began to call Uruguay The Amsterdam of South America

Gambling in Uruguay

gamble in montevideo uruguayBack in the good ole’ USA, I have been to Las Vegas a time or two, or three, or more, but who’s counting.   And so, as I was reading up on Uruguay before I visited, I had read that casinos are legal in Uruguay. 

I’ll have to be mindful of this one, I thought.  I am going to South America to experience the culture, the people, the history…not another casino.  However, like any good investigative journalist, I had to take one for the team just to report back to you, the reader. 

The casinos in Uruguay are not like those on the strip in Las Vegas.  However, if you have ever been to the off-strip casinos in Las Vegas-the ones where the locals play-you’ll have a better idea of what the casinos in Uruguay are like. 

Gone are all the flashing lights, the upbeat party atmosphere, the happy vacationers and smiling tourists, the attractive waitresses, and in Uruguay, the free cocktails.  Just like the off-strip casinos in Nevada, people are there to make money.  But, as in all casinos, the only winner in the end is the house.  Thus, you are left with a rather somber crowd.

Given the state of the economy in Uruguay, I also thought that the minimum bets in Uruguay would be minimum-ier.  One of the beauties of the off-strip casinos in Las Vegas is that you can find blackjack tables with $1,2,3 minimums.  Any person who plays by the basic blackjack rules can last forever on these tables.  However, in Uruguay, I was not able to locate any tables with small minimum bets.  At most casinos, the minimum bet exceeded $5 and, on average, was the equivalent of $10.

The first casino that I visited with my friends was in downtown Montevideo, near Plaza Independencia.  I traded some money for chips and sat down to play a little blackjack.  I played 4 hands, won them all, and then left…the atmosphere just wasn’t that fun.  (I don’t think that I have ever left a casino within 10 minutes!)  Thinking my first visit must not have been a good representation, I went to another casino in Parque Rodo about 2 months later-same experience

casino gambling in Punta Del Este UruguayOver the summer, I visited one of the casinos in Punta Del Este in the Conrad Hotel.  This casino most resembled Las Vegas as people are there on holidays and having fun.  However, as Punta Del Este is the Gold Coast of South America, it will cost you more to play. 

I learned a lot about myself, and my tendencies, in the casinos in Uruguay.  I realized I go to casinos much more for the atmosphere than the cards.  In all, I spent a total of 30 minutes in the casinos in Uruguay in 9 months.  If a friend of mine in the States met a friend of mine from Uruguay, the conversation may go as follows: 

“Does Richard go to the casinos all the time?”  –friend in the States.

“What are you talking about?  He doesn’t even like to gamble.”  –friend in Uruguay. 

If you’re going for straight-up cards, these casinos have it.  But if you’re going for a Vegas type of atmosphere, wait until you get back home and just go to the real Vegas.

Prostitution in Uruguay

a brothel in uruguayAt a dinner party hosted by my friend American friend Amy, she began a conversation about prostitution in Uruguay.  Because, as I learned from Amy, prostitution is legal in Uruguay.  Amy, independent and inquisitive, sought to investigate this matter first hand.

She visited some of the brothels, also often known by the name of Whiskerias (bars that serve Whiskey…and women) or Casas de Masajes (house of massages).  I listened intently to Amy’s tale and then asked:

“What are they like, these Whiskerias?    

“Well,” she responded, “they are just like bars.  You sit down, order a drink, talk to your friends, have a good time.  And, there are women available if you’re in the mood.”

Interesting.  Later that night, I asked my friend Roberto about the Whiskerias.  I thought Roberto may have different insights since he is an Uruguayan…and a guy. 

“Roberto,” I asked, “Have you ever been to one of these Whiskerias?” 

He looked around to make sure his girlfriend was not within earshot.  “Of course,” he responded.  “They are great and have many beautiful women.  When you haven’t…you know…in a while, it’s a great way to keep your system going if you know what I mean.”

I was surprised about this because Roberto is not someone one would naturally assume visits a brothel.  So, I continued:

“What percentage of guys here have been to them, the Whiskerias?”

He looked around again.  No girls in the vicinity.  He smiled and said, “100%.”

Doing due diligence for you, dear reader, I hit the Internet and did some research.  Some research is more fun than others :)  Here is a list of Whiskerias and Casas de Masajes and here are pictures of a Whiskeria known as Acuarela (don’t visit those links if you are <18).   In reading through some of the listings, these folks mention that, if you are gringo, you might get ripped off.  So, be sure to learn a little Spanish before you go

Smoking (Drugs) in Uruguay

drugs are semi-legal in uruguaySmoking pot in Uruguay is like in Amsterdam.  Technically, it’s illegal (most people don’t know that smoking marijuana is, in fact, illegal in Amsterdam), but everybody does it.

I realized this one of my first nights in Uruguay when I found a nice pub called Living.  I wanted to have a cigarette-a regular one-and they said that I would have to go outside.  Smoking indoors is not permitted in Uruguay.  When I got outside with my Marlboro Light, I noticed that a lot of people rolled their own cigarettes.  Wait, I thought as a distinct, familiar aroma aroused my senses, those are not cigarettes

It’s pot!  At half of the people on the outside patio were smoking pot.

“Is it legal?” I asked someone in my broken Spanish.

“No, but nobody cares.  It’s accepted.”

Unlike in Amsterdam though, you cannot just walk into a coffee shop and buy it.  Why?  Well, for one, Uruguay really has no coffee shops (could be a great business idea) because they all drink Mate. And secondly, while you seem to able to smoke everywhere, it is not as out in the open as in Amsterdam.   

If you want it, I imagine the best way to get it is to go to a bar, hang out outside, start talking to people, and they will have some for you or know where to get it.

A Final Thought on Gambling, Prostitution, and Drugs in Uruguay

One of the things that I love about Uruguay is the general attitude.  If what you are doing does not affect or harm others, it’s ok.

They don’t seem to legislate morality…or stupidity

If you want to gamble, gamble.  If you want to be with a woman, be with a woman.  And if you want to get high, roll a fatty.

However, if you get high and run out in the middle of the street and get run over by a car, or fall into a hole in the sidewalk, don’t plan on suing the driver or the city, because in Uruguay you are just what you are:  a stoned person who did a stony, stupid thing :)

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Richard Cummings

Richard Cummings is writer, traveler, and web content developer.

Get your copy of his latest book entitled Obvious Conclusions, stories of a Midwestern emigrant influenced and corrupted by many years living in San Francisco and abroad. It just received its first outstanding review "...reminiscent of David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs" on Amazon UK.
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Richard CummingsUruguay (The Vices): Gambling, Prostitution, and Drugs

Comments 12

  1. Vicky

    So true .. i realise i love my Country !!! jaja!

    Oh .. and did you know that the smoking policy only started 3 years ago ??? Before Tabaré Vazquez we could smoke anywhere .. pubs, malls, restaurants, offices, groceries stores .. anywhere!! Then he won the elections .. and he´s totally against smoking and abortion and that stuff .. So now we cant smoke in all of those places .. (and smokes cost three times more than it did before)

    But we still love Tabaré anyways .. (he´s only thinking about our health) lol ..

    Oh .. and pretty soon abortion is gonna be legal too !!! We are in democracy here, and we should be able to choose to not have a baby and not go to jail for it.

    p.s. i hope im not still banned … :| (can i not speak my mind?? dont be like the advertising people! jaja)

  2. Paola

    Abortion is not going to be legal… Tabaré Vázquez BAN the legalization himself…
    Whatever, that’s not the subject…sorry hehe

    I loved ur blog Richard, excellent realistic information, even for uruguayan people!
    It’s cool to read the view of foreigns, also interacting with our idiosyncrasy.
    Turists liking Uruguay so much make me love more my country and appreciate how lucky I’m because I born here :) (Montevideo).

    Keep the good writing!

    PaO

  3. Sven

    ha ha…

    Ok – Actually I wanted to find out whats the deal with “Marlboro Light” and “Uruguay” and where do I land? On the blog of my golf and party pal Richard!
    And What do I get? A List of Whiskerias… Man I do love ya!
    :-D

    Jan

  4. Dave

    love the info here…the only question is live in the big city or go the that “go native” feel…either way I think it’s a win when you stack it to the states….I lived in Mexico almost all of the past year and it was great…but based on my research..conversations, party pals, et al…Uruguay is the jewel of South America…Yo quiero vivir mejor mi amigos…Buena Suerte!

  5. AJ

    I recently visited Uruguay 3 months ago!
    It was awesome! I met my family and cousins for the first time! And being that they were guys we did everything the US state department site recommended staying away from! We visited all the clubs wiskyerias and smoked a lot of weed! I’m from the United States and i realized there’s way too many rules/laws and way too much government involvement! What I loved most about Uruguay is that life is “tranquillo” relax/ laxed real chill. Granted people didn’t have much, they loved what they had! Uruguay is beautiful! the people love foreigners and the country is safe! Your info entries are pretty accurate except tattoos… tattoos are cheap and the young people are totally into it! Everyone has them…my cousins each had 8+… i actually bought my brother and two cousins and myself tattoos of our last name all four blk ink from a legit tattoo parlor 150 bucks usd! The same art work in the US would of been 800usd+ depending on the artist!…the place was extremely clean new everything and a lot of paper work involved. not expected. All in all Uruguay was awesome,…the best looking people I’ve ever seen and I’ve been places! o yea and the hottest McDonalds employees on the planet! haha I’m going back again after Christmas for a month who know maybe I won’t come back!
    at least until obama legalizes weed…haha
    rep. Salinas Uruguay!
    Montevideo
    Punta del este
    cidudad vieja
    can’t wait to go again!

  6. CM

    My fathers originally from Pando, Uruguay. I’ve visited my family down there (and family down there is relatively huge) and loved it. Aside from looking up in the sky and seeing plethora of stars that I can’t see in Southern Jersey (due to air pollution from Philadelphia), the atmosphere was much more easy going then here. Recently, I’ve been pondering a move to Uruguay. Mainly to experience some place else, but also to reconnect with my family down there.

    Thanks for this blog. Keep up the good work :)

  7. Ada

    I’m very happy to read that other people are happy with ”old uruguay” I was born there and I never had any good luck, that is why I’m living in australia..the only thing I always missed from uruguay is – la pasiva’s panchos, mostaza savora, emporio de los sandwiches, alfajores de dulce de leche, churros rellenos de chocolate and all that good food from the good land that once was ”the swiss of america”

  8. Germán

    just to say that smoking pot *is* legal in Uruguay, everything else regarding marihuana is illegal but smoking it is not. To be fair, no drug is illegal to *consume* in Uruguay

  9. Yorgos

    Nice article, indeed. After long searches in the net I am seriously considering my relocation to Uruguay! Does anybody can provide info & assistance with residence permits, cost of living, volunteering (free) and/or income requirements? I have found lots of sites for pensioners, however I am not one of them, unfortunately…
    Thanks in advance
    Y

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