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Luck and Legacy

by Dave Yanko

Airports, seaports and train stations have a certain feel to them that you just don't get in other places where human beings congregate. Leaving, arriving and returning can kindle strong emotions.

Casino Regina
- images courtesy Casino Regina
Casino Regina, in the former Union Station.

When you pass through the antique brass doors into the central hall of Casino Regina, you can't help but feel the buzz of an enterprise designed to stimulate excitement. But the excitement's underscored by the casino's setting in Regina's former Union Station railway depot.

The building's past is evident. In front of the grand tyndall- and ashlar-stone structure sits a handsome old steam locomotive with a passenger car (turned V.I.P. lounge) nearby. Inside, positioned prominently on a wall in the central hall, is a schedule board displaying the arrivals and departures on the day the train station closed back in 1990. The central hall itself, formerly the station's "grand concourse'', features a high ceiling with elegantly simple chandeliers and an all-important clock near the top of the feature wall. It's a place that had grace, substance and excitement long before its $37 million transition to casino was completed in time for the grand opening in 1996. And today, those old vibes mingle agreeably with the new ones.

grand concourse
The former grand concourse is the casino's central hall

There's everything here for the gaming patron including hundreds of slots, a well appointed and popular poker room (with tournaments that draw from all over North America) and a new craps table that's boosting the excitement level in the central hall. There's big-name entertainers at the 800-seat Show Lounge and reasonably-priced meals in The Last Spike and Rail Car restaurants, as well as in the CPR Lounge. And now, regularly scheduled Union Station historic tours add another attraction to the package.

"One of the reasons we do the tour is because it's part of an entertainment experience,'' says Casino Regina's Greg Laroque. "Like the Show Lounge, like the restaurant or gaming: it's all entertainment experience."

Apparently that approach is working. Casino Regina is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Saskatchewan and among the top casinos in Canada.

The historic tour, which costs $10 per person, provides highlights of the building's (and Regina's) colourful past and some interesting glimpses into the operation of the casino (not to mention some curious tidbits on the casino's resident ghosts. But more on that in a minute).

Union Station
Union Station

Union Station was constructed in 1911-12 and was actually Regina's third train station—the first is now a museum in Broadview, Saskatchewan. The station was completed the same year the deadly "Regina Cyclone" walloped the city, tearing through Wascana Park and gutting part of the downtown area—it's now believed to have been an F4 tornado. Among the many volunteers removing debris and searching for survivors following the storm was a young, struggling actor named Boris Karloff. Karloff tried to launch a theatrical company in Regina before landing in Hollywood and gaining fame as "Frankenstein" and "The Master of Horror."

One of the old railway police jail cells in the basement of Casino Regina now serves as an historical photograph gallery illustrating Regina's history through images of the tornado damage, the Regina Riot and one of the huge mounds of buffalo bones that gave Regina its early moniker "Pile of Bones". Outside the gallery, a section of the bright subterranean hallway that runs the length of the building is festooned with a shipment of new slot machines. Laroque says the casino each year turns over about 20 per cent of the devices in an effort to replace older and less popular ones, and to keep the experience fresh for patrons.

Cards

Spain, Austria and Australia are some of the countries that manufacture slot machines. "But of course most,'' our tour guide tells us, "come from Reno and Las Vegas."

One of many other doorways off this long conduit leads to a tunnel representing a system of underground passages said to stretch several blocks east of the casino and south all the way to the stately Hotel Saskatchewan. Precisely how these tunnels were used is anyone's guess. But it's likely not too big a stretch to assume they were used for illegal activities, perhaps rum running during prohibition, for one. And there are rumours—just rumours, mind you—that Chicago gangster Al Capone was familiar with Regina and her tunnel system. Casino Moose Jaw, Casino Regina's partner facility located about 40 minutes west of The Queen City, has benefited from Moose Jaw's famous tunnels and the stories that connect them to U.S. and Canadian prohibition.

Entertainers

A popular stop on the tour is the "Green Room", the backstage quarters for entertainers performing at the Show Lounge. If the Green Room is occupied, you're likely out of luck. If it's not, it's a great place to gain a quick appreciation for the quality (and quantity!) of talent Casino Regina brings to the city—the white-walled hallway where entertainers leave their signatures and comments is fast filling up with script. Some who've graced the stage here include Jann Arden, Buffy Sainte-Marie, George Fox, Rory Allen, Chubby Checker, Michael Burgess, Nazareth, Oakridge Boys, Brent Butt… the list goes on and on. And on.

And oh yes, the ghosts…

In spite of all of the changes to the former Union Station, Casino Regina remains home, or so it's said, to at least two ghosts. Some people claim to have seen a male apparition in one of the jail cells downstairs, while others have spied a female phantom on the catwalk above the gaming floor in the central hall. In fact, patrons playng the craps table are tossing dice right below that catwalk. Who knows, maybe the mysterious lady is Luck.


For up-to-date information on special events and entertainment at Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw, visit their Web site. To find out more about the Union Station Historic Tour, see CNTtours. To see what's on at the Show Lounge give this a click. And by the way, have you ever wondered how to play craps?


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