After my lovely cheerful encounter in the Square St. Louis I briefly went back to the hotel and then took the subway to the exit at Jean Drapeau Park. There are two large islands in the St. Lawrence River: Ile Notre-Dame and Ile Sainte-Helene. The latter more than doubled in size in preparation for Expo 1967. From the Park Jean Drapeau metro station I took local bus 167 to get to La Ronde, an amusement park originally set up for Expo 67. I had a ticket for tonight’s international fireworks competition which was going to be held at La Ronde, so I had to go and pick it up at the information counter.
With ticket in hand I made my way back on two buses to reach the Casino de Montreal, the largest of Quebec’s three casinos, run by the Société des casinos du Quebec, a government agency whose primary objectives are to create employment, equip the province with world-class tourism infrastructures and generate additional income for the province. Although I am not much of a gambler I wanted to check out this complex since it is one of the major attractions in Park Jean Drapeau.
I arrived by bus in the basement of the Casino, entered and dropped off my backpack at the coatcheck. Through a maze of escalators and walkways I navigated my way upstairs to the front entrance where Alexandre, one of the customer service specialists at the Casino, was already waiting for me. He was going to provide me with a personalized tour of this expansive complex and provide me with additional information about the Casino’s operations.
We went outside and Alexandre informed me that the Casino complex consists of three buildings: the former France Pavilion, the former Quebec Pavilion, both built for Expo 1967, as well as the Annex, connecting the two buildings. The Quebec Pavilion features top-to-bottom 24 karat gold windows. The gardens surrounding the Casino are available to Casino patrons and the entire complex is surrounded by the tracks for the Montreal Grand Prix.
Alexandre started to take me through the buildings and explained that the Casino has about 3500 employees, working in three shifts, 24 hours a day. He first took me to the Cabaret du Casino, a prime entertainment venue offering spectacular variety shows and colourful musical reviews. Patrons can purchase a package that includes dinner or enjoy the show by itself.
He then took me through the entire multi-storey complex and introduced me to the various games of chance on offer. The Casino de Montreal featues more than 3200 slot machines of different kinds, 115 gaming tables for Blackjack, Baccarat, Roulette, Keno and a variety of tournaments. Alexandre explained that many of the slot machines no longer have a mechanical barrel, but that they are video slot machines with an electronic display. The Casino also offers a Royal Ascot electronic horse racing track as well as a high-limits gaming area and lounge.
Alexandre explained that the Quebec government has a monopoly on gaming in the province and the funds go back into provincial infrastructure and public services. When we walked through the various buildings he informed me that the Old France Pavilion building has a European design, reminiscent of casinos such as Monte Carlo, that let in daylight generously. The former Quebec Pavilion on the other hand has a North American design with absolutely no daylight. Alexandre indicated that the clientele in the two different buildings is very different and that people have a preference for one or the other type of design.
My expert guide also educated me that the incidence of gambling addiction is actually going down and that the Casino de Montreal has specific programs to prevent and deal with gambling addiction. Problem gamblers can join a self-exclusion program that bars them from playing at any Quebec Casino. The Casino’s 285 investigators not only monitor and investigate fraud, they also ensure that individuals that are part of the self-exclusion database do not get access to the Casino.
On our walk through his extensive complex Alexandre pointed out an on-site branch of the Banque Nationale, the only bank in Canada that is open for 24 hours. Here patrons can exchange money in 16 currencies. A free shuttle bus provides transportation to the Casino from four pickup locations in downtown Montreal and makes it easy for out-of-town guests to enjoy a night of gambling excitement.
But of course, a high-intensity activity like gambling will make you hungry and the Casino features five bars and restaurants: the Italian Bistro Via Fortuna with amazingly reasonably prices, the Buffet La Bonne Carte, L’entre-mise Deli, and the Nuances Gourmet Restaurant. Four bars, La rotonde, Le carré, Le jardin d’hiver and Le cheval round out the hospitality offerings.