Casinos in Canada have received tentative government go-ahead to reopen, but the casinos may never look the same again. There are some innovative procedures being put in place that are designed to keep staff members and customers safe. Many of these policies will almost certainly be around long after COVID-19 is a bad memory and will help Vegas casino online gamers get more out of their land-based casino adventure.
Coronavirus restrictions are starting to ease in Canada and the casino industry is straining at the bit as it prepares for reopening. Like Vegas, Macau and other gambling centers around the world, the Canadian casinos are going to look quite different than they did prior to March 2020. Dealers will be sitting behind plexiglass shields, hand sanitizer stations will be placed at locations around the gaming floor, slot machines will be distanced from one another and other steps will be taken to ensure that gamers and staffers are as safe as possible.
Canada has been more reticent to reopen its casinos than Las Vegas, which started to reopen in June. But observers note that everyone involved still has a lot of trepidation about reopening. Concerns revolve around rolling shared dice, touching slots screens, handling cash and other activities that make preventing exposure in an enclosed space with large crowds a nightmare.
Colin Furness, infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto warns that, “There are a lot of things to touch at casinos; poker chips, slot machines handles, doorknobs … and there’s also ventilation. Casinos are usually air-conditioned, and aid conditioning facilitates COVID.”
Furness is not a proponent of opening casinos during the pandemic. But, he says, it’s possible to reopen casinos safely. “It will depend on ventilation and design of the casino,” he said. “If I could design one from scratch I could design a fairly safe casino.”
Burns admits that “It does take a bit of work for casino environments to be prepared, so we [Ontario] started preparing a few weeks ago. We are taking this seriously and creating guidelines for a safe working environment for employees and also an entertaining environment for customers.”
What’s known so far is that, at the beginning, casinos will run with 50 percent occupancy to allow customers to gamble while distancing physically from one another. Burns says that “Every other machine may be turned off, chairs removed, we will have enhanced cleaning procedures and will reduce the number of people at tables…..We will also have enhanced filters and fresh airflow. It’s more expensive to do so, but have the capability to ensure there will be fresh air.”
Physically, Canadian casinos will look much different. Table games will be closed when the casinos reopen and there will be fewer slot machines, as the machines will be distanced from one another. Customers will see many signs that remind them to stay distant from one another and there will be no buffets, valet service, spas, nightclubs or live shows.
Cleaning will, obviously, be a top priority. The casinos will be using long-lasting antimicrobial sprays on all surfaces and will wipe down the machines between each use. Disinfectant wipes and sanitizer will be provided to customers continuously throughout the gaming floor.
The customary image of casinos that are open 24/7 will not longer be true – they will close each morning for several hours to clean. Plastic barriers will be set up at the tables and at slots to keep people distant. Many casinos plan to employ technology that will minimize the need for lines—apps that tell casino visitors when it’s their time to enter and live count capacity monitors.
Despite the difficulties and inconveniences, many casino aficionados want to get back to the gaming entertainment after three or four months of dark gaming floors. Burns is optimistic. “Where we’ve had reopenings, demand has been good. Customers do want to come back but they also want to know it’s safe. We have to get this right for customers.”
There are different regulations in different provinces. Alberta, the first province to allow casinos to reopen, doesn’t require that customers wear masks. There is no capacity restriction there other than the requirement to maintain two-meter distances between individuals.
Casinos in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and parts of Ontario that are entering Phase 3 can reopen but not all operators plan to do so. In Quebec, a number of casinos have received the go-ahead to reopen.
British Columbia and Manitoba have not reopened casinos. B.C. health authorities want to wait to reopen casinos, conventions, live professional sports events, international tourism and concerts until the province enters Phase 4 plan. That will happen when there are successful treatments, broad community immunity or an effective vaccine.
It’s not only the casino operators who are losing out over the closures. Canada has 114 casinos which account for more than 182 jobs, spending on goods and services of about $14.6 billion, charitable contributions of $9.2 billion and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues.
The casinos are given broad guidelines for safety measures that need to be taken in order to reopen but each casino has a lot of leeway in deciding how to implement those guidelines.
One of Quebec’s biggest casinos, Casino de Montreal, is planning to reopen in early August. It will be among the first to offer table games in Canada under the new restrictions. They are planning to have a maximum of 250 people at a maximum of six sections at a time. Guests can get “priority access” by booking their visit through the casino’s new RSVP system.
The casino requires guests to sanitize their hands and wear masks when they are at the tables and they will receive a stylus pen so that they don’t need to touch any devices. Slot machines will be activated by an attendant who will check that the player has disinfected and is physically distanced while playing.
The Casino de Montreal will not operate coat checks or valet services. Urinals have been closed due to concerns about physical distancing. At the table games chips will be handled only by dealers. Games which require players to touch cards will be closed
Some table games have been modified so that only dealers handle chips and those that require players to touch cards, such as poker, will be closed. Players will be separated from each other and from the dealer by a plastic screen.
Ontario has ruled out buffets and table games when provincial casinos reopen and will require customers to wear face masks. Any casino that wants to reopen must submit a reopening plan to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario that outlines the steps that the casino will take to reopen. Indoor capacity is capped at 50 people which, says Burns, is not an economically feasible number for casinos. Two of Ontario’s biggest casino operators, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and Gateway Casinos, have not indicated that they’re going to reopen any time in the near future.
Burns believes that if casinos in other provinces successfully reopen, Ontario will relax its restrictions. But, he says, there’s a lot of work to be done first. Staff needs to be retrained, the gaming floor needs to be spaced out, new signs must be placed in relevant places and hotels, salons and restaurants must also be readied. “There is a great deal of experience and dedication going into this process,” Burns said. “No one is going to rush to reopen.”
Burns also sees positive outcomes from the closures. He would have liked to have seen these advances occur without the trauma of job and revenue losses, but he says that there are things that the industry has recognized must be done for a long time, but were dragging their feet.
One of the major changes involves the removal of cash as a casino commodity. Burns hopes that the reluctance of customers and staffers to handle bills will push the industry to embrace digital payment options. Until recently, few casinos allowed for mobile or contactless payments. Many regulators wouldn’t allow it either. But the pandemic is accelerating the move to a cashless payment system.
Even before the pandemic, the Canadian Gaming Association was working on plans for going cashless. So when the pandemic hit, it was ready with a proposal for the adoption of cashless payments including debit or credit cards or digital apps such as Google Pay, PayPal and Apple Pay.
“We started looking into it last year but the pandemic has had a way of escalating timelines,” Burns said. “It’s not going to happen immediately, but these tools will find their way to the gaming floors in the coming months.”