'Today is a major, major downer': Emotional last day as Northlands closes casino

The Northlands Park and Casino will close its doors for good early Friday morning, three months after horse racing came to an end at the Edmonton racetrack.

Casino closure comes three months after end of horse racing at the Edmonton track

The casino at Northlands shuts its doors for the final time Friday at 3 a.m. (David Bajer/CBC )

The Northlands Park and Casino will close its doors for good early Friday morning, three months after horse racing came to an end at the Edmonton racetrack.

"It's really an end of an era. This is something we've known was going to come, " said Scott Sinclair, the gaming and racing director at Northlands who came from Vancouver to take the job in 2012.

"It was announced about three years ago that we were getting out of the racing, gaming business but through multiple extensions and things like that it didn't really seem like this would ever happen, but now it's officially here."

The casino opened on the Northlands grounds in 1996. But the writing was on the wall after a decision was made to move horse racing to the new Century Mile Entertainment Centre near Edmonton International Airport.

Friday's closure is the last step in what's been a lengthy goodbye.

Century Mile was originally supposed to open in the summer of 2018 but delays in construction meant races continued at Northlands until October. The new track is now scheduled to open in April. 

Horse racing at Northlands ended in October 2018. (David Bajer/CBC)

For Northlands president Gordon Wilson, the casino closure is bittersweet.

"Today is a major, major downer, " said Wilson who has held various titles during his 44 years with the organization.

"It's been a progression, but today is the final day. I mean it's all over after this."

'Pretty optimistic here' 

Despite the closures, Northlands will carry on, hosting popular events like K-Days and Farmfair International. Wilson said the organization is working on two more events.

"We've got a strong balance sheet and a pretty good looking future so we're pretty optimistic here," said Wilson.

On Friday, officials from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission start refurbishing the slot and gambling machines which will eventually find a new home at Century Mile.

Century Mile is owned by Century Casinos, which has four other casinos in Alberta, as well as operations in Poland, South Africa, England and on cruise ships around the world. The new facility will employ 150 people.

Nathan Kusiek is the marketing manager for Century Resorts and Casinos. He says Century Mile will pay homage to Northlands throughout the new building.

"Northlands has been very accommodating in working with us, " said Kusiek.  "They've given us half a sea can worth of historical things."

Century Mile will also be the new home of the Canadian Derby, which kicked off at Northlands in 1957.   


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