Odds stacked against Casino Rama opening any time soon

Thursday 21st May 2020

Gaming is no longer a sure bet - at least not in a post-pandemic world.

"The landscape for gaming in Ontario is unknown," admits Corey Dalton, the president of Unifor Local 1090 which represents thousands of casino workers including 1,050 unionized employees at Casino Rama.

"There may be a reduction in business due to caution from guests in a COVID-19 era, or there may be an increase in business due to pent-up demand for gaming.

"We do not have a clear answer here," Dalton told OrilliaMatters.

Uncertainty has been the norm since the pandemic hit and, for gamblers, that was never more evident than when the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) shut down casinos in Ontario on March 16 amid growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

With a myriad of COVID-19 restrictions still in place - including limiting gatherings to five people, physical distancing rules, among others - it seems apparent casinos won't re-open anytime soon.

And when they do open, things will be much different.

But Rob Mitchell, the director of communications and public affairs for Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited, which operates Casino Rama and Georgian Downs, said it's unclear just how different things will be.

"Presently we are working with the Ontario Government and the Canadian Gaming Association on developing stringent health and safety protocols for reopening that adhere to guidance from public health officials and our regulatory agencies," Mitchell said.

"It would be premature at this point in time to speculate on what those protocols will ultimately be, but obviously they will set out measures to provide the safest environment we can for our employees, guests and the public - and build on our existing rigorous cleaning and sanitizing procedures," he said.

Mitchell said all shows at the Casino Rama Entertainment Centre have been postponed, but he said officials "hope to reschedule with new dates some time in the future."

Neither Mitchell nor Dalton would venture a guess at when casinos might re-open.

"(I) will not speculate on an opening date," said Dalton. "We are confident that all stakeholders (Gateway Entertainment, Unifor Local 1090, OLG) will closely follow public health recommendations before returning to business."

While an opening date is "unknown," Dalton said the union has "received assurances from Gateway that a joint Health & Safety committee will collaborate on solutions for a safe return-to-work when the time is appropriate."

He said the union "will collaborate closely with Gateway to ensure the safety of our members is the absolute top priority when casinos re-open."

He said employees are "extremely eager to get back to work." But the environment has to be safe, he stressed.

"Local 1090 representatives will be carefully examining all available safeguards and will advocate for any measures that will help provide our members and casino guests with a safe gaming experience," said Dalton.

"Increased sanitation of gaming equipment, protective screens, limited seating, reduced capacity, personal protective equipment, and guest screening prior to entry are some of the options that will be discussed with the employer," Dalton said.

It is unlikely that casinos will re-open all amenities at one time. For example, restaurants remain closed throughout the province for eat-in service, so the future of the eight restaurants in Casino Rama is unclear.

And it is likely that a show at the entertainment centre, where people are packed in a 5,000-seat venue, could be further away.

"As far as timing for the various amenities that the casinos provide, there is no timeline at this point," said Dalton, who said it's "possible that opening could be in phases."

He stressed, "however (that) no plans have been discussed" as of yet.

Meanwhile, the casino has published a survey on its Facebook page, asking patrons to weigh in on potential protocols and concerns.

Mitchell said it's not possible to provide any further detailed information right now.

"Given the day-to-day nature of this pandemic that is all I can tell you right now," he said.

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