Casinos debate when to reopen as they are given permission on Friday

Jul 13, 2021 | COVID-19, News

This is an image of Casino Woodbine located in North Etobicoke, Rexdale.
Casino Woodbine has been closed since Nov. 23, 2020, because of COVID-19 restrictions. The casino has not decided when it will reopen. Photo credit: Courtesy

Casinos haven’t decided yet whether they’ll reopen July 16, the day Ontario enters Step 3 of its reopening plan.

The Great Canadian Gaming Association, which owns and operates 11 casinos across Ontario, and other companies were forced to adhere to strict guidelines and protocols due to COVID-19.

Premier Doug Ford said on July 9 he was encouraged that Ontarians to continue getting vaccinated. Step 3 of the province’s Roadmap to reopen plan states casinos can reopen at a 50 per cent maximum, outdoor horse racing can open at a 75 per cent maximum.

The old colour coded framework was discarded by Ford in May 2021 and the new reopening plan was created using three steps.

The protocols for casinos under the old framework included enhanced cleaning, capacity limits of 50 people at a time, and booking a playing session through casino websites.

COVID-19 cases and high transmission rates resulted in three closures beginning on May 16, 2020, for four months. They closed again on Oct.9, 2020 for about a month, but were forced to close again on Nov. 23.

Chuck Keeling, spokesperson for the Great Canadian Gaming Association, said no date has been set for reopening as they are focusing on a strategy that involves detailed training for reopening.

Health and safety have been a top priority across the gaming corporation as it will work with third-party experts on COVID-19 as more details about the disease become known, Keeling said.

“This will be no different in our new environment, where heightened health and safety protocols will drive every aspect of how we operate our business so we can continue to go above and beyond to provide memorable experiences for our guests, and rewarding opportunities for our team members,” he said in an email.

Enhanced measures to stop transmission of COVID-19 include keeping slot machines out of service to maintain two metres of physical distancing, Keeling said.

Plexiglass barriers have also been installed as a level of protection in between machines where physical distancing is not possible, he said.

“Hand sanitizers will be widely available across the casinos but enhanced cleaning and disinfecting programs will be adopted and include slots, table games, security areas, cash counters, team and member facilities that include washrooms, workstations, and countertops,” Keeling said.

James Archer, a horse hot walker at Casino Woodbine, said although enhanced protocols are in place, there is still concern about distancing between guests and members.

Machines within the facility are still close to one another and the casino wants to see how to best maximize their profit keeping popular machines open, Archer said.

“I am concerned with capacity limits, if there will be enough staff for proper sanitation after each use,” he said.

As more people continue to get vaccinated, the casino will look at increasing, then possibly removing capacity limits, which should be carefully assessed, Archer said.

Great Canadian Gaming Corporation will continue to follow guidelines by provincial health authorities and when a decision on a reopening date is made it will be posted on, Keeling said.

An overview of the closures and reopenings are listed here