11/10/96 SPECIAL REPORT
"Canada's Largest and Newest Casino"
Train Trip to Casino Rama
By Lance Humble
Got to the train station at 10:15 am Monday, September 23,  Yom Kippur. Bought my ticket for $32.05. Teller says the train arrives at 10:39 but my newspaper train schedule says10:29. I find a bench in the sun and begin to write about this journey. Teller cautions me to be sure to catch the 5:20 pm train back to Toronto because this being Monday it is the only train back. As I'm sitting on the bench an overweight middle-aged man in a bright red jacket and his fat wife walk by. He says good morning and she smiles. I say good morning. They stand beside me on the platform as I'm writing this. Now she sits down at the end of my bench. The bench lifts up a bit. It's the teeter-totter effect. I'm getting a free carnival ride!
This is so funny I smile to myself and hope she can't see that I describe her as fat on my 5 x 7 inch note card. He says to her, "I can't believe they're open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What about February, who's gonna go up there in zero degree weather?" I think he has a point. There isn't even a hotel closer than 10 miles away in the small town of Orillia with a population of about 30,000. Another couple walks by, both are slim. He starts talking to the three of us. He asks, "Have you been to the casino before?' We all answer "No." "Me neither," he says, "But I've been to the one in Hull, Quebec and it's really nice." Not much smoke. The Montreal casino is very smoky."
The train arrives at 10:31. The cars are double-deckers. Great! I say to myself I'll go up to the top and get a great view. It's 99% farm, field and trees from my Thornhill station north of Toronto. Wrong! The top level is full with passengers who got on in Downtown Toronto at Union Station where the trip begins. So I go back down to the lower level and find an empty corner. Only later do I notice my seat is next to a washroom which has already seen three persons in the last five minutes. I hope this doesn't keep up. I notice most of the passengers are Chinese. Many Canadian Chinese love to gamble. Most of the charity casinos in Toronto in fact have more Chinese patrons than non-Chinese. I noticed years ago that the Chinese, for the most part, are clever gamblers. Most that I have observed in Las Vegas as well as in Toronto play perfect Basic Strategy and rarely drink anything but POP.
The train stops in Richmond hill, a small town about 20 miles north of downtown Toronto, and picks up a handful of passengers. I look out the window and see two girls playing on the front yard. Why aren't they in school? I wonder. The train begins to move. The conductor begins to yell, "Casino Rama next stop. We should be on time." The train picked up speed, it's smooth. We're in North Richmond Hill and passing a forest on the right and suburbs on the left. We're in farm country a minute later. I see barns, silos, fields with horses, grazing. One farm house has a satellite dish in the front yard.
A young woman appears in my aisle, beams a smile says "Hi, how are you today? Do you have a card?'
"No", I say. She hands me a brochure, green and black with a Rama players Card pictured on it. I open it and begin to read. It states: The moment you receive your Rama Players Card, a world of opportunities open up to you. The card ensures your immediate recognition at the casino, and much more..." That's all I need, immediate recognition and much more, like getting barred maybe? I stop reading. (The brochure is reproduced on the next page).
I notice two young women sitting in a section directly in front of me. A clean cut smiling young man walks up, says good morning, and asks if he may join them. They say sure. He is a magician hired to entertain on the train. He starts doing tricks with coins and cards. They are amused. I hope he doesn't approach me. I want to be left alone to think and to write. I read in the Toronto Star earlier one of the magicians being quoted saying it is a hell of a lot harder trying to entertain the losers on the night train home than it is the hopefuls traveling to the casinos on the morning train. The magician finishes his tricks, wishes the ladies good luck and walks away. I'm relieved. I took out the window it's very sunny with blue skies and we're zipping through a forest, trees on both sides, white pine, maple, oak, evergreen. I glance at my watch, 11:15. Another hour and a quarter and I'm there.
Some trees have begun changing colours from green to a beautiful rusty red. We're out of the forest and in farm country again. Dozens of cows are lying down sunning themselves. Don't they need sun blocks?
About twelve people have used my tiny comer washroom. They keep banging the doors shut. Needles to say this bothers me. I ask myself. What's good about this situation? Try to turn a negative situation into a positive one. In less than a second the thought comes into my mind. This is great practice for your concentration for card counting in the casino. I feel a smile coming across my face as I recall my junket high roller days in Vegas. I got so good with my concentration nothing could distract me, not even the almost topless dancers in the Sahara doing their thing in the small stage in the lounge just four feet from the blackjack tables.
I look up and we're passing a lake. The sun is sparkling silver. An image of a similar lake appears of our private lake in the Ukraine when we had our country home some fifty years ago. Our lake was silver surrounded by acres of gold wheat in the bright summer sun. I look up, we're in another forest. No wheat here. Both lakes disappear. Some one sneezes. I turn around. It's an old Chinese man blowing his nose. I look further there is a car full of old men. Retired, I guess. Have they got nothing better to do on a Monday, I ask myself. Will I be like him in twenty years? When I'm seventy five? The idea of getting old makes me sad. My children immediately come to mind. Am I doing all I can for Paul and Kathy? I guess I am. I relax again. Back to the trip. My plan is to check out the casino for my readers and write up a detailed report on conditions. I don't plan to play as I heard the cut is bad and they use eight decks. But I'll see, maybe I can stand, watch, count and jump in when it's positive. Maybe not. I heard it's very crowded. They took in thirty-five million dollars in the first month. The train is slowing down. I look at my watch. It's 11:45, another thirty-five minutes to go. I look out the window, we're going up an incline, rocks on both sides. There's a marina. A little white hut. It's a tiny station. Washago. The train stops. The Chinese men get excited and start chattering loudly. It's 11:57 when the conductor announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, we'll be at Casino Rama in a few minutes." We're going to get in a few minutes early, I say to myself. We arrive exactly at 12 noon. I step off the train with about 100 other patrons. I look behind me and see our train has six passenger cars and two diesel engine cars.
I look in front of me and I'm facing a long white building that looks like a warehouse. There are ten glass aluminum doors in the middle and the outside walls are painted in bright North American Indian colours, orange, red, blue, purple. I walk inside the casino. I'm faced with thousands of slot machines, quarter and dollar slots. The casino is huge, about three or four football fields. I buy five dollars worth of quarter tokens and try my luck. I win 20 quarters on my second try. I keep playing. I win five more. I win ten more. I keep playing. I get forty quarters. I keep playing. I quit ahead seventeen quarters. Whoopee!
I walk further into the middle of the casino. Now I see many one dollar slots and a then a few twenty dollar slots. The casino is not at all crowded. Only about ten percent of the slots have players. I go to the BJ tables. I walk around. There are 76, but only one third are open. Minimums are $5, $10, and $25, maximum $500. Eight decks, cut off about two. It's 12:30. They are opening more BJ tables. I'm there.
I found a $5 minimum table. Bought $100 worth of chips. Played for one hour and ten minutes. Checked out the rules. Broke exactly even.
Las Vegas strip rules. Dealer stands on all seventeen's, insurance pays two to one, black Jack pays three to two, one card only on split aces, any pair may be split, resplitting allowed, double after splits allowed. No surrender. Dealer takes a hole card. If he has a ten value card or ace up, there's a prism mirror gadget set into the table when he slides the down card over it and he can see through a small aperture about one quarter of an inch by half an inch what card he has underneath. After the shuffle, which takes a long time with eight decks, he bums a card and shows it to the players. Then he cuts off two decks, therefore six decks are dealt out. Should he hit the plastic cut card in the middle of a hand, he removes it and keeps dealing until all the hands at the table are completed. There are $5, $10, $15, $25 and $100 minimum tables and the maximum can be increased to $1000 a hand by request. The sign on the table reads that the house must give a half hour warning before it raises a table minimum. When I quit for lunch about two o'clock, about 50 tables were open and full with people waiting for a seat. The washrooms are spotless, done all in marble. The casino is well ventilated. There are no non-smoking sections. However, Doug, the young pit boss, told me he will make a table non-smoking if all the players agree to it.
I did not realize till later in the afternoon that the train stopped at the back of the casino, not the front of the casino. The front is quite impressive with dark wood in the entrance way and paintings of natural scenes with birds and animals. Inside the front entrance is a giant mural about 60 feet tall then a real rock formation jutting out of the fall with a real waterfall. Very impressive.
"Casino Rama is the biggest casino in Canada. It may be big but it is not bountiful to blackjack players."
The only irritation inside the casino was the constant din of the slot machines with the occasional bell ringing. There is valet parking for six dollars and ample free self-parking. The casino grounds are surrounded by trees. The casino has five restaurants. The prices are reasonable. Outside the casino on the corner Frankie Noodles Pastaria is due to open this fall. On the same corner all housed on one long double story building are the provincial police, a variety store, a metal company, an engine company and the Georgian College Casino Training Centre (Dealer School). Across the street is an old red brick church with an historical iron sign titled Rama Indian Reserve. The sign reads in part, "In 1830 Sir John Colborne, Lieutenant-Govemor of Upper Canada, settled several nomadic bands of Indians on a reserve. Pressure on the government by land-hungry white settlers forced the Indians to relinquish their holdings in 1836. They had to move nearby. They purchased 1600 acres and by 1846 had 300 acres cultivated, and the settlement contained twenty houses, four barns and a school house." The church's cornerstone is inscribed METHODIST 1909. Beside the church is the Chippewas of Rama Community Center and behind it a baseball park and playground, all fenced in with a big sign reading: For the safety of our children this is an Alcohol Free Zone.
The casino gift shop sells many varieties of Indian Motif artistic T-shirts as well as Indian dolls and small wooden carvings. They have an all-you-can-eat buffet for $12.60 (Remember if you are using US funds take off 30% off all the prices quoted.). The buffet provided a lot of choice: hot and cold items. The hot items included soups, rice pilaf, penne alfredo, cabbage rolls, Swedish meat balls, chicken wings, and ham. A variety of salads, vegetables and desserts, but no potatoes, french fries or shrimp. One of the chefs informed me that potatoes and shrimp will be served at supper time (not quite Vegas style).
There was free entertainment in the form of a five piece band. They were good musicians playing popular music. They got the crowd moving with the Macarena. On the way out of the buffet I noticed they had poker machines. Both 25 cent and one dollar. The listed payoffs were: five of a kind = 500; straight flush = 100; four of a kind = 15; full house 8; flush = 5; straight = 3; three of a kind = 2; and a pair = 1.
They have fourteen roulette tables, $5 minimums, with zero and double zero. Four baccarat tables and two $50 minimum and two $100 minimum and $1000 minimum BJ tables in the baccarat pit. By 3:30 this Monday afternoon one half of all seats at the slot machines were taken and all seats at all the table games were taken but there were still 24 blackjack tables closed. Free soft drinks are offered to the table players. Liquor costs $4 a shot. There were 20 Caribbean Stud poker tables with a machine dealing the cards.
I had less than one hour before my 5:30 return trip. I found a seat at third base at the same $5 table as before. Played through two shoes. The count got up to plus 16 in a second shoe with about four decks left. I bet my maximum $40, won with a 20. The count dropped to plus 11, I bet $40 again and caught a blackjack for a $60 win. The count went negative. I lost two $5 bets. The count went worse, down to minus 30. I left the table, cashed out and went to the train with 20 minutes of grace.
I accomplished what I set out to do. I cased the Joint. I risked $145 in total and cashed out for $137.50. So the trip cost me about $55 including transportation and the buffet dinner. I don't plan to ever come back to Casino Rama. The 8-deck BJ game is only a break even proposition. Needless to say, there was no heat from the pits anywhere including at the $50 and $100 minimum tables. There is no need for heat with an 8-deck game, no one playing basic strategy perfectly, except one Chinese lady at my table, and no one was counting cards as far as I could determine. Casino Rama is the biggest casino in Canada. It may be big but it is not bountiful to blackjack players.
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