Story by Brendan Pawliw, Vista Radio staff
BC Attorney General David Eby stated they won’t be rolling the dice on people’s health even though the transmission of COVID-19 remains low.
Casinos across the province remain closed following an order by Eby and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry back in March.
In May, Henry stated casinos are “last on the list” to come back citing the majority of patrons are older with underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to disease.
In an interview with Vista Radio, Eby stated they don’t want to make the same mistakes that have been made south of the border.
“So in Nevada, unfortunately, they were in a rush to reopen casinos and a saw a significant spike in transmissions as a result of that rapid opening and a lack of safeguards put in place so there are examples in relation to casinos where things haven’t been done properly and we’re going to avoid that.”
“We’re going to make sure that we get it right and we’re not going to move until the provincial health officer tells us too.”
However, earlier this month, Alberta made the decision to reopen its casinos during Phase Two of its recovery plan even though they have three times as many confirmed cases at 7,851 a far cry from B.C.’s total of 2,869.
During a briefing last week, Alberta Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw stated one of the things they looked at was how analogous they might be to activities that were already open where they hadn’t seen much trouble.
“So given that we felt that those particular activities could be more analogous like restaurants or shopping malls that it seemed like casinos could open again with those mitigations in place as we haven’t to date had any issues with those other locations.”
Some of the new practices and guidelines for casinos in Alberta include:
- Increased frequency of cleaning and sanitization of surfaces and touchpoints.
- Staff will be required to practice frequent hand washing and sanitizing. Increased access to hand sanitizing stations throughout facilities.
- Staff wearing masks, gloves, and PPE as prescribed throughout gaming floors, dining rooms, and other amenity outlets. Physical distancing practices of 2 meters will be encouraged and monitored throughout our facilities where applicable and outlined by Alberta Health Services.
However, Hinshaw noted that table games are one of the things off-limits at this time.
“So in this stage, we are not allowing table games to proceed given the fact that there is more interaction and potentially more chance of transmission so it is mostly those seated events or activities that are taking place in casinos.”
Eby also outlined how much gaming revenue the province has lost out on since the pandemic.
“Casinos bring in about 10-million dollars a week to government revenues, they have been closed since March and some of those losses have been offset by online but the BC Lottery Corporation but the BCLC and government revenue have also been hit by fewer people buying lottery tickets.”
“I do understand those families who have a family member that works in a casino as there are about 10-thousand of them in the province and from a provincial point of view, casinos do bring in significant revenue but really in terms of where casinos fall in the hierarchy of priority of essential services to reopen, it’s actually pretty low.”
When asked if a region of the province with far fewer cases could see its gaming facility reopen safely during the pandemic, Eby was quick to point out that at the end of the day, the most pressing concerns centered around health care.
“The concern around the areas with lower cases is that these are often places that have significantly reduced access to intensive care beds and it’s more challenging to access health care so that’s a concern when we’re talking about reopening and that’s why we have to have a plan in place.”
With travel now being allowed again across B.C., Eby was asked if this gives casinos a slightly better chance at reopening.
He noted the majority of these facilities aren’t as reliant on tourist traffic.
“Most of the casinos in the province with the exception of a couple of the large ones in the Lower Mainland serve local audiences, so they are significantly dependent on tourism and the ones that are dependent on that will be much more impacted by the closure of the American border which we hope continues for the foreseeable future given the caseload in Washington, Oregon, and California.”
“In terms of Alberta crossing over, they have more exposure to cases right now but their numbers seem to be under control, which is good news.”
Once casinos do get the green light to re-open, Eby hinted that customers will notice some subtle changes.
“This pandemic and the public health requirements that this is going to bring will result in a number of legacies. Certainly on the online gaming side, if people started using the BCLC’s Playnow site to gamble they may continue to game in that way if they choose to; however, when people go back to casinos they will also be in very different places in terms of how they are operated.”
“This includes contact tracing needing to know who is in the casino and this has a significant impact on things like people who have gambling addictions and are attempting to evade detection when they go into a casino they self-excluded after telling BC Lottery they don’t want to be in there and the service provider will have to know who’s in the casino and those new identification requirements are really going to address some long-standing problems around public health that we’ve had for a while.”
BCLC is collaborating with our service providers to develop plans for reopening B.C. casinos, once the Provincial Health Officer deems it appropriate to do so, with the health and wellbeing of players, employees, the vulnerable population, and communities as our ongoing priority.
While we are watching and learning from the experiences of other jurisdictions, BCLC will continue to follow directions and guidance from the Provincial Health Officer as we develop proposed measures that are appropriate for our context in B.C. As such, and given that you are interviewing Minister Eby on this topic on Thursday, we wanted to provide some background information regarding our proposed health & safety measures.
Specifically, to support physical-distancing at B.C. casinos, we plan to reconfigure seating at slot machines and table games to ensure a two-metre distance between players. Physical barriers (such as plexi-glass) would be installed where this is not possible or where casino employees, such as dealers or cash-cage staff, must interact with players. Casino employees will monitor capacity to ensure that physical distancing is maintained.
Frequent hand sanitization will be recommended. In fact, BCLC and our casino service providers will provide free hand sanitizer to players, and refill stations will be located throughout our facilities.
Ongoing sanitization of touchpoints and gambling equipment, such as chips, will occur. To minimize touchpoints, we are also planning that the types of table games offered will change to allow only games in which cards can be dealt face-up, and that players will not be permitted to touch cards.
Casino staff will also be required to undergo detailed training about enhanced sanitation requirements and new physical-distancing protocols.
B.C. casinos provide entertainment and socialization through games as well as entertainment and dining attractions. We look forward to the time when it is safe and appropriate for casinos to reopen in B.C. At that time, we will continue to enhance and adapt our measures and support the Provincial Health Officer, including through contact tracing if required, to prioritize and support the health of our communities.
BCLC’s on-site GameSense Advisors will also continue to support our players at casinos and community gaming centres throughout B.C. in making healthy decisions about their gambling.
It’s noteworthy that during this temporary closure of casinos and community gaming centres, BCLC has continued to generate important revenue for the Province of B.C., thanks to a diversified portfolio that delivers engaging gambling experiences to players through lottery and online gambling on PlayNow.com.
While fiscal year 2019/20 financials are not yet available, in fiscal year 2018/19, BCLC delivered $1.4 billion net income to the Province of B.C.