Smoking room with slots 'under consideration' at Casino Rama

Friday 6th March 2020

A smoking room, where gamblers could spark up and play the slots, could be coming to Casino Rama.

But the union representing the casino's employees says all bets are off on the scheme.

Corey Dalton, the president of Unifor Local 1090, which represents Casino Rama's unionized employees, said there have "been rumours circulating" about a smoking room.

"We have not been presented with anything formal," Dalton told OrilliaMatters. "But if the employer presents a formal proposal, the union will definitely fight it to the extent we can legally fight it."

Dalton said the stance is related to the health and safety of its front-line workers.

"We believe there are reasons for the Smoke-Free Ontario Act and the health and safety of our workers are paramount," said Dalton. "We don't want our workers working in a smoke-filled room."

He said the union "absolutely rejects the idea of our cleaning staff or slot attendants or any workers being required to work in a smoking room."

Rob Mitchell, the director of communications and public affairs for Gateway Casinos & Entertainment, which operates Casino Rama, said there is no "definite" plan in place.

"It's under consideration," Mitchell told OrilliaMatters. "What I do know is it's something consumers have asked for for some time. It's consumer-driven."

He also stressed it's "not unique" to Rama. He said during a recent visit to Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, he noticed they had a smoking area with slot machines, outside, adjacent to the main gaming floor. He said a similar situation exists at a casino in Ottawa.

He said "it's speculation" right now, but stressed that any such move would require discussions between management and the union and suggested that it would be 'voluntary' for employees to work in such an environment.

But the issue is a smokescreen for larger concerns, said Dalton. In April, Great Canadian Gaming will open a massive new casino in Pickering, called Durham Live.

That gaming facility will be larger than Rama and will have a hotel and entertainment centre - expected to open this summer.

Dalton says a "big part of Casino Rama's catchment area" includes Ajax, Pickering, Markham and Durham region.

"It is a huge concern for the future of Rama," said Dalton. "We think this year will be a challenge - especially when Pickering opens."

He said it's hard to know what the impact might be.

"There's no playbook for this," said Dalton. "In 20 years (since Casino Rama opened), there's never been a major casino open in our catchment area. Then, a year ago, Woodbine opened and that had a big impact. Now, Pickering ... we don't know if it will have a serious impact or less of an impact. But it's a big concern."

Mitchell said it's unclear what impact the new casino might have on Rama.

"It's no longer a monopoly system and the gaming environment is becoming increasingly competitive," conceded Mitchell.

But he still believes Casino Rama is a sure bet.

"We feel that we have a terrific offering in Rama," said Mitchell. "It's extremely well-known ... we're very proud of it."

He called the casino east of Orillia a "jewel in the crown," noting it is one of just "three exclusive resort casinos in Ontario."

He said Gateway has been working hard to adapt to the changing environment, noting the decision to relax restrictions for those wanting to see a show at the entertainment centre (moving from 19-plus to 12 and over) and to improving its entertainment lineup, citing a recent announcement to bring the Schitt's Creek cast to the casino.

Mitchell also lauded Casino Rama's rewards program, the "amazing amenities" of the hotel and spa and the surrounding community, which "has its own identity."

He said Gateway is committed "to growing the business" at Casino Rama.

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