Canadian Casinos lost over $23M per day during closure, study shows

In the early months of 2020, large parts of the world were virtually shut down for weeks on end, with governments around the globe ordering all non-essential businesses to shut temporarily and all non-essential workers to stay at home in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Canada was no exception, with a government announcement made on the 17th of March declaring an emergency, ordering many establishments to close immediately and imposing heavy restrictions on those deemed essential enough to stay open. Most of the restrictions and closures came into effect the following day, the 18th of March. While restrictions are beginning to be eased and many businesses have now been able to reopen, there are still strong regulations on social distancing, health and hygiene measures and the number of people allowed in enclosed spaces.

The casino industry was hard-hit in terms of revenue loss during lockdown, which in turn affects the revenue of the country. Estimates suggest that a total of around CAD$23 million per day was lost due to the closure of all 216 land casinos. This places Canada fourth in the world in terms of lost revenue from casino closures, according to data shared by Casinos have been among the last places to be allowed to reopen, even with social distancing and other safety measures in place. Unifor, a union which represents thousands of Canadian and British Columbian casino workers, was pushing for measured reopening after other businesses including restaurants and bars had opened their doors once more, arguing that many workers were suffering and at risk of losing benefits as well as wages. Casinos were among the fourth wave of plans for lifting lockdown, which was the final stage.

Many casinos have now slowly begun to open their doors once more to Canadian customers, although the landscape is significantly different to what customers came to expect pre-lockdown. At present, many table games are still off limits, with distanced slots games reopen. Many of the additional amenities are still suspended, so services such as buffets, nightclubs, spas, valet parking and live shows are still mostly off the table. Casinos that were previously open 24/7 are now closing for several hours each morning, to allow staff to implement necessary deep cleaning and sanitisation. Opening is still in a phased approach – some casinos are opening soon, while for others it will be several more weeks. Most are opening with only limited services, and there will be strict social distancing enforced at all times, which limits the number of customers that can enter at any one time.

Access to land casinos across Canada currently varies depending on which province people live in. Alberta was one of the first to allow phased reopening, with casinos in Alberta allowed to begin welcoming customers again provided they adhered to a set of four key rules. Casinos were permitted to reopen if they could demonstrate compliance with the General Relaunch Guidance for COVID-19, ensure high levels of personal hygiene and sanitation among attendees, implement rapid response procedures for anyone developing symptoms while on site, and implement practices for minimising transmission risk. Casinos in other provinces have been gradually returning to business, with some further behind than others.

Cashless payment systems are likely to feature in many of the reopened venues as part of a commitment to minimise contact and handling cash, which can possibly transmit infection and cannot be easily sanitised. Many casinos already had plans underway to allow cashless payments, but these have been introduced earlier than planned through necessity. Customers attending those land casinos that are open can also expect barriers between slot machines, every second machine switched off or a distance of at least two metres between machines, improved ventilation and air filtration, enhanced cleaning procedures and requirements for customers to comply with hygiene and sanitation standards, which may include wearing masks, sanitising hands upon entering and exiting, and abiding by clearly marked social distancing while in the casino.

One area of the Canadian gambling industry has benefitted rather than lost out during lockdown. Online gambling sites reported an increase in website traffic of around 30% throughout the spring months, with many who would usually visit brick and mortar casinos turning instead to games they could play from home. Online casino operators such as BetSafe and mobile casino apps such as PartyCasino have not only not had to deal with loss of revenue but have been able to sweep up a percentage of the revenue lost by land casinos.

While online gambling has provided an outlet for some, the Canadian gambling industry has been hard hit by coronavirus. Closure of casinos combined with lack of live events for sportsbook gamblers resulted in the loss of millions each day throughout lockdown. However, exerts are confident that the industry will eventually recover, even with new safety procedures in place limiting customer numbers and shorter opening hours to allow for cleaning. It seems likely that growth will take some time to return to the industry, but many are confident that it will not be too long before reopened casinos can get back on an even keel.

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