Casey Kastle has traveled the world as a poker pro for over the last two decades. He’s won almost two million dollars in tournaments in exotic locales like Aruba, Barcelona, San Remo, San Maarten, Jeju, Cambodia, Bulgaria, and Marrakech in Morocco.
But these days the Slovenian-American from Chicago would rather be in the Philippines than anywhere else.
“I first came to the Philippines in 2008 and I just fell in love with the place,” confesses the grinder who is based in Ljublana, Slovenian but spends most of his time abroad.
Kastle says he cashed twice in big tournaments in the Philippines, making the final table on both occasions. In January of 2009 he finished third in the Asian Poker Tour Manila leg main event, banking US$70,000.
“I’ve never spent more than two months in any country in a single year for fifteen years. But since 2008, I’ve been back to the Philippines fifteen or sixteen times. I’ve already been here for a total of five months in 2014.”
And it isn’t just the lure of juicy poker games that brings Kastle to our shores. It’s also the warmth of the Filipino people and the sheer natural beauty of the country’s 7,107 islands.
Casey has motorbiked all over Palawan, dipped into the hot springs of Camiguin, traipsed all over Bohol, and of course, lazed on Boracay’s pristine white sand beaches. Next on his travel wish list: the Banawe Rice Terraces and Batanes.
“I like the weather, the people waving at you from the side of the road, the laid-back lifestyle. The simplicity of many things,” says Kastle.
“I went to Guimaras and found the best cashews I’ve ever tasted in my life. So flavorful and crisp. I bought four kilos. This place (the Philippines) is definitely among my top three candidates for retirement.”
Casey is even in the process of buying beachfront land in Diniwid, Boracay from friend Chris Arenas. Mindful of the restrictions on foreign land ownership, he insists he will do it legally.
“I love Thailand too, they also have the tropical climate. But here communication is much easier. In Thailand it’s a real challenge to be understood, especially in the rural areas.”
Kastle also understands the Catholic nature of the country, since Slovenia is a majority Catholic country. The player has both Slovenian and American passports and speaks Slovenian fluently.
The former wine salesman, who says he played at the Worlds Series of Poker every day for nineteen years until 2007, admits he doesn’t actually come to the Philippines to play the game. But having a lively and growing poker scene does help a big deal.
“There is pretty good action here. You can choose from several different places to play, and there are more casinos coming.”
Solaire Hotel and Casino is expanding its operations in the Mall of Asia area, and other gaming ventures will be springing up very soon.
Kastle also notes that everything is far less expensive here for a poker pro as opposed to the prohibitive prices for hotel rooms and food in Europe.
Casey’s favorite poker discipline is Pot Limit Omaha, and he loves the action he can get in the local poker rooms, where he can often be found at the 100-200-500 peso tables. It also helps that an old friend from his Chicago days, Mike Kim, is running the Solaire poker room.
Kastle is currently in Australia for a big poker tournament, but he will return a few weeks time for the first-ever World Poker Tour event in the country, the WPT National Philippines in Solaire. He is committed to the main event, which has a buy-in of US$2,200 and could feature a winner’s purse of anywhere between US$300,000 to half a million bucks.
The WPT’s expansion into the Philippines is a clear indicator of the burgeoning poker scene in the South East Asian country. Kastle will be favored once again to cash in that event, but even if he busts out early, he won’t be too sad.
“There’s always a nice beach just an hour away by plane.”
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.