Canadian Gaming Assoc. CEO Says Ontario Casinos Need Clarity on Reopening ASAP

Posted on: July 5, 2021, 09:43h. 

Last updated on: July 6, 2021, 08:13h.

Representatives from the Canadian gaming and tourism industries called Monday for officials from Canada and Ontario to provide guidelines for how casinos and other tourism draws can safely reopen.

Canadian gaming
Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, speaks Monday during a Canadian Travel and Tourism press conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario. He called on officials in the province to give gaming operations clarity about reopening guidelines as soon as possible, so casinos can prepare for reopening. Some casinos in the province have remained closed since March 2020 because of COVID-19. (Image: Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable/YouTube)

With the landmark Niagara Falls in the background, Canadian Gaming Association President and CEO Paul Burns discussed the country’s gaming environment during a press conference at the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable in the namesake Ontario city. He also spoke about how Canadian casinos have yet to enjoy the reopening boom their US counterparts have witnessed during the first half of this year.

He noted that casinos in Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan have reopened to limited capacities. However, the plan in Ontario – the country’s most populous province – does not call for reopening casinos until July 21 at the earliest.

That’s despite Ontario having a higher one-dose vaccination rate (67.7 percent) than Alberta (62.1 percent) and Saskatchewan (62 percent), and a higher fully vaccinated rate (38.5 percent) than British Columbia (32.2 percent), New Brunswick (35.7 percent), Nova Scotia (28.9 percent), and Quebec (31.6 percent). Those figures are from the COVID-19 Tracker Canada, through Monday.

“This doesn’t make sense,” Burns told reporters.

July 21 Earliest Reopening Date for Ontario Casinos

Similar to the British Columbia casinos, which reopened last week, some of Ontario’s casinos have stayed shuttered since the original closing order back in March 2020. That includes the two casinos in the Niagara area, which is located just across the US-Canadian border from Buffalo, NY, as well as Caesars Windsor, which is across the border from Detroit.

Detroit’s casinos reopened for good in December, while the Seneca Nation tribal casinos in western New York have been open now for more than a year.

“I worry about the family members of the 4,000 employees of Niagara casinos who have not worked since March of 2020, and for their family members that rely on these well-paying jobs to pay the family bills,” Burns said.

He also pointed out that the three southern Ontario casinos attract more than 12 million visitors combined each year, and a quarter of those come from outside the province.

Casinos reopening in Ontario would take place when officials deem the province to be in Step 3 of the reopening plan. That is supposed to take place no earlier than 21 days after the province reached Step 2, which officially took place last Thursday.

Even if casinos can’t open now, Burns said there are steps Ontario officials need to take now to give operators the clarity they need before unlocking their doors.

“We are less than three weeks away, and even casinos don’t know what our capacity will be,” Burns said. “Or if we’ll be able to open table games, and how many employees to call back. We need time to prepare. We need answers today.”

BC Casinos Reopening Starts Strong

This past weekend was the first for British Columbia casinos to be open in the province since the COVID-19 state of emergency began, and a spokesman for one casino operator in BC said it went well.

We expected a strong response from guests, recognizing that BC casinos have been closed for close to 16 months,” Chuck Keeling, Great Canadian Gaming Corp.’s executive vice president for stockholder relations and responsible gaming, told in an email Monday. “Turnout was strong, but also highly controlled, especially considering facility capacity has been reduced to reflect physical distancing.”

British Columbia casinos are allowed to operate at around 50 percent capacity, which includes limited seats at table games. Food and beverage service is also limited for the time being, as BC officials do not plan to advance to the next phase in its reopening plan until Sept. 7.

The publicly traded Great Canadian Gaming Corp. (OTCMKTS: GCGMF) operates nine casinos in the far western province. Of the 26 it owns, 14 are in Ontario. The remainder are open.