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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Memories of Casino Turmel

By Tom J. Kennedy

On the lighter side ... at The UsuryFree Eye Opener:

I proud to say that I worked at Casino Turmel at Topaz in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada as a dealer (both black jack and poker) and as the cashier from 1991 until the final bust in July of1993. Actually, it was never an “illegal” casino. John Turmel was brilliant and he had been acquitted of a previous gambling charge. First, the Hull Police busted Casino Turmel in 1991, then it was moved to Baseline Rd., then to Baxter Ave., and finally to Topaz where it was operated until July 1993.

When he opened Casino Turmel at Topaz, he briefed the Ottawa Police of his plan ahead of time and I was with him when he visited the detectives at the Ottawa Police Station. We had 125 people on staff - three eight hour shifts every day with a minimum of 18 blackjack tables and 6 poker tables. John paid generous wages and we earned even more in weekly tips that we earned in wages. Indeed, it was well known as the “cleanest game in town” and John was (is) much more than a gambler.

For those interested in some background information about John Turmel and Casino Turmel, you are invited to browse this website: and there is lots more information about John Turmel at this website: & at Wikipedia:

I remember well the day the tray of chips went missing. At that time we were expanding very fast and new tables were needed almost on a daily basis.

On the day of the theft, the tray that was stolen was definitely not screwed into the wooden table yet as it had just been set up the evening before when Casino Turmel was operating at full capacity and another table was needed. The table was set up and the tray set into the hole cut for it and the dealer started dealing to the anxious black jack players.

When that table was closed later in the wee hours of the next morning, there was an oversight and the tray was counted and left in the table without being screwed down. Obviously, the pirates were watching and one of them had a plan to scoop it up and hide it - probably under a jacket or coat - as the optimal way of completing the theft. When the “tray theft” was discovered, the staff immediately knew that the tray has not been screwed into the wood of the black jack table.

I worked at Casino Turmel from 6:00 PM until midnight, seven days a week. This was my part-time job and my full time job was being an elementary school teacher for the Ottawa Board of Education. Casino Turmel was busted twice and I was not working either time. That was fortunate for me as I am not sure what the Ottawa Board of Education would have done If I have been criminally charged under the Gaming Laws.

I remember that the theft happened sometime after midnight - probably in the wee hours of the morning as John suggests in his email (see below). I can attest that Casino Turmel was open 24 hours every day - except for Christmas Day when it was closed. The theft of the tray did not happen on Christmas Day.

The amusing part of the story is that there were various denominations of chips in the tray from $1.00 chips to $5000.00 chips. As cashier, I would regularly cash in chips from players from $1.00 to $500.00 BUT I never cashed in chips valued at $5000.00 as they were rare and only used in the tray for accounting purposes.

So the thief and his buddies were quite likely able to cash in the smaller denominations of chips. I do remember one player bringing a $5000.00 chip to me, when I was working as the cashier one night. Obviously, I refused to cash it in because I knew that $5000.00 chips were kept in the tray exclusively for accounting purposes. As I remember, there was no argument from the player when I refused to cash in the $5000.00 chip. I guess he just had to try when his other cash had run dry.

I always suspected the thief was one of the so-called “pirates” but we never had any proof. So they probably cashed in all of the smaller chips but I guarantee that none of the $5000.00 chips were ever cashed in. Perhaps they painted them to become $500.00 chips!!

I say that because yet another scam was exposed one night when I was working as the cashier. One of the poker players came to me to show me a chip that he had in his pile. Players always stack their chips and drop them through their fingers as they make their bets. This player noticed that his black chip valued at $100.00 had a red colour at the corner of the chip. We scraped the chip a bit more and sure enough, a red chip valued at $5.00 have been professionally and meticulously painted black with all of the fancy gold trimmings that were the trademark of Casion Turmel.

So we had to call in all of the black chips and scrape them to find which one were converted. We also found blue chips valued at $2.50 also painted black. I forget the exact number of painted chips that we found BUT it was a considerable amount. Again, there was absolutely nothing that we could do about the “painting scam” to turn small denomination chips into larger denomination chips.

My observation at the cashier was that neither the “tray theft” nor the “painting scam” hurt Casino Turmel financially for karma played its role and the scammers ended up putting more money into the trays over time.

Below is a brief email from John Turmel describing the theft as it is outlined on page 104 of the book “The Champagne Gang: High Times & Sweet Crimes.”

JCT:The Champagne Gang: [ISBN 1-895629-97-7] "High Times & Sweet Crimes" by Jeremy Mercer is about a gang of young safe-crackers who had a lucrative career robbing pharmacies and corner stores of their cigarettes and drugs.

On page 104, they mention my Casino Turmel at Topaz in Ottawa!

Kevin Grandmaison: "The best was last year when he had come out after robbing an illegal casino in Ottawa. The place was usually open 24 hours a day, but the guy who ran it closed the place down once a year for cleaning. Kevin broke the lock on the door, snuck in past the cleaners and grabbed $45,000 worth of chips before anyone knew what was going on.

He was in and out in less than 90 seconds. The next day, before the chips were noticed missing, he and some friends came in and took turn cashing in the hot chips. After paying off his buddies, Kevin had $35,000 in cash in his pocket and he caught the next flight to Vegas. The money lasted 4 days.

He'd even been up more than $200,000 at one point, but a bad run on the blackjack table left him with nothing but his return ticket home."

JCT: There was only one underground casino big enough to handle $45,000 in chips and that was my Casino Turmel at Topaz. My companion Pauline Morrissette had told me about the robbery but in a different way. First of all, we never closed down, so it must have been in the wee hours of the morning. Some tables had the chip trays not screwed into the table and she reported that one of the trays was missing. The rest
were all screwed in properly that day. She had figured it was "the pirates" who had taken it but we figured they lost back far more than that over time.

But now we know for sure that it was "the pirates" who had lifted the chip tray!”


At 6:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with whatever was taken was lost back at the tables and more..but no one seems to be posting of how a dealer and a certain pitboss were also in on's the nature of the beast when u play on the darkside...good times!!! As for John..he did set up the best game in town...too bad the pricks shut him down!!! I guess the goverment got jealous and decided to get into the for the champagne gang..we were just trying to make a buck...John got triple from us than we got from him... I've always said when your playing at the casino your playing with the devil..funny thing was Kevin and I arrived in the morning as they were getting busted at the topaz..that's was a close


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