Ontario casinos cleared to reopen but no table games allowed

Canada’s largest province has cleared most of its casinos to reopen following their pandemic shutdowns, although it’s unclear whether casino operators intend to reopen anytime soon.

On Tuesday, the government of Ontario announced that Stage 3 of its economic restart would permit casinos and charitable gaming centers “in certain regions” to reopen to the public as of this Friday (17).

However, the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation (OLG) provincial gambling monopoly said venues looking to reopen will need to submit plans detailing their health and safety precautions and will face significant limits on their ability to generate revenue.

For instance, casinos will be prohibited from operating any table games “at this time.” Gaming venues will only be allowed to admit a maximum of 50 customers at any given time and all persons on-site will be required to observe a two-meter physical distancing requirement.

The casinos included in Stage 3 were selected based on their location and level of risk as determined by local health officials. They include:

  • All casinos in the East Bundle (Kawartha, Belleville, Peterborough and Thousand Islands) and some in the West GTA Bundle (Brantford and Grand River). Operation of these casinos is handled by Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.
  • Most casinos in the Southwest Bundle (Clinton, Hanover, Woodstock, Chatham, London), and all casinos in the North Bundle (Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay) and Central Bundle (Rama and Innisfil). Gateway Casinos and Entertainment is responsible for these casinos’ operations.
  • Rideau Carleton Casino in Ottawa, which is operated by HR Ottawa.

The reopening of these venues will be subject to the whims of their respective operators, including the operators’ read of “the commercial viability to operate under the mandatory restrictions.”

Gateway Casinos has reportedly already informed staff at its Casino Rama property that the venue won’t reopen “until such time there is a sufficient business case to do so given the capacity and other restrictions imposed on us.” Gateway added that in intends to focus on reopening venues “where the restrictions of 50 customers are feasible.”

OLG recently received a half-billion dollar cash infusion from the province to ensure the monopoly could survive the pandemic, which reportedly cut OLG’s revenue streams in half. OLG’s online gambling site PlayOLG is said to have enjoyed a surge in business during the retail gaming shutdown although OLG has yet to release any official figures.

Ontario is Canada’s largest province by population and has endured the greatest number of both COVID-19 cases and deaths. On Wednesday, the government confirmed 102 new cases, but this represented the lowest daily number in nearly four months. The province also reported nine new fatalities, raising that grim total to 2,732, nearly one-third of nationwide deaths.

Casinos in Alberta, Quebec and Saskatchewan have all reopened to the public following their own COVID-19 closures, while British Columbia has stated that its casinos will be among the last venues to reopen.

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