The majority of Ontario’s casinos reopened on Friday, as Canada’s most populous province took another step toward fully reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic. Gaming officials there also launched a new initiative to combat money laundering schemes.
A task force established by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will monitor cash transactions that take place at the casinos. The move comes a year after Canadian financial authorities noted significant and nearly identical drop-offs in both casino disbursement and large cash transaction reports.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, and associated closures and physical distancing measures, has disrupted some money laundering methods—particularly those that rely on the placement of illicit cash into cash-intensive businesses,” a July 2020 report from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) said.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) will team with AGCO to monitor cash transactions at casinos.
Money laundering has no place in Ontario’s gaming industry,” said Ian Messenger, OLG’s director of anti-money laundering. “As patrons return to the province’s casinos and gaming sites, we will be working closely with our colleagues at the AGCO and OPP to proactively identify suspected illicit cash and ensure that appropriate actions are taken using our capabilities and those of our task force partners.”
In April, Global News revealed that the number of suspicious cash transactions at Ontario casinos has soared in recent years. After just 134 such investigations were reported in 2015, the following two years saw more than 1,900 combined. In 2018, there were 2,266 cases, with officials estimating a similar number for 2019.
Each case, the report said, could cover multiple transactions across several casinos.
Friday was the first day casinos could open in the province, as Ontario entered Step 3 of its reopening plan.
For Great Canadian Gaming Corp., 11 of the company’s casinos reopened, allowing thousands of workers to return to their jobs. Ontario regulations allow casinos to reopen at 50 percent capacity during Step 3.
Also reopening Friday were 11 casinos owned by Gateway Casinos and Entertainment. Gateway’s casinos in London, Woodstock, and Innisfil – all of which operate 24 hours a day – reopened after the stroke of midnight early Friday morning. The remainder opened later in the morning.
“We are excited to finally re-open casinos and community gaming centers across the province, and welcome back our employees and valued customers into a very safe environment for gaming and dining,” Gateway CEO Tony Santo said in a release.
Casino Rama is the only Gateway casino in Ontario that remains closed. The company said the resort on Lake Simcoe 70 miles north of Toronto would reopen on July 29.
Casino Rama isn’t the only Ontario casino that will reopen later. In fact, three major venues in the southern part of the region plan to reopen this upcoming week. All three will do so for the first time since the pandemic began more than 16 months ago.
Caesars Windsor announced earlier this week that the largest Canadian casino resort will reopen on July 23. In the announcement, Caesars said players won’t need reservations, but they must register prior to entering.
In addition, Caesars Windsor will only have certain slot machines and limited dining options available. The casino, located across the border from Detroit, plans to reopen its table games on July 28, pending regulatory approval.
In Niagara Falls, the Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara will also reopen on July 23. Both also will hold invitation-only events next Wednesday and Thursday.
Similar to Caesars, neither of the two Niagara casinos will immediately have table games. Fallsview plans for table games to be available on July 30. It’s uncertain when Casino Niagara will resume its table games and poker room.
Earlier this month, before Ontario officials moved up the Step 3 launch date, gaming and tourism officials implored provincial leaders to give casinos some guidance to help them plan their reopening strategies. Officials added the two Niagara casinos reopening will bring back thousands of workers.
Even when those venues open, there will be other Ontario casinos that will remain closed. That includes the Rideau Carleton Casino in Ottawa. Rideau Carleton’s harness racing track has reopened and is open to fans at 25 percent capacity in outdoor areas.
“While we understand the province has indicated casinos may be able to reopen, we still have not received clear information about the restrictions. Therefore, there is no firm reopening date,” the casino’s website stated.