hile casinos are allowed to reopen Friday as Ontario permits Niagara to enter Stage 3 of its recovery plan, Niagara Falls’ two gaming halls will remain closed. In the same province, no date has been decided for reopening Elements Casino Brantford.
Under provincial guidelines, casinos are permitted to open, but must abide by significant restrictions including capping indoor gatherings at 50 patrons at one time. They must adhere to proper physical distancing of six metres. They can play slot machines but table games aren’t permitted at this time.
“It’s not a casino issue, it’s a capacity issue,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, as reported by Niagara Falls Review. “Casinos that can typically handle 11,000 at a time, nine million per year, to go to 50? … it’s not worth opening the doors because they’d only lose money.”
The mayor said the casinos have “gone above and beyond what would be required” in order to operate safely in a post-COVID-19 environment. “They have hired an epidemiologist to help them design a very safe to play experience, there’s been antimicrobial applications on all touch surfaces and they have enough Plexiglas to cover an NHL-sized ice rink,” Diodati said. “They’ve got all the documentation and plans vetted by public health, but until the numbers make sense, they have no choice but to remain closed.”
In a news release issued Tuesday, Niagara Casinos said it is reviewing reopening requirements and how capacity restrictions will impact Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara. “While we are not reopening this Friday, we look forward to welcoming back our guests soon,” said Richard Taylor, president of Niagara Casinos.
Diodati said he discussed casino reopening plans when he met with Ontario Premier Doug Ford in Toronto Monday. While no timeline to increase capacity was determined, he said the premier was “very empathetic.” “We’re all aligned with our thinking, we just need to get to the finish line,” Diodati added. “The casino is the No. 1 employer in the region and we need to do everything we can to get everybody back to work.”
When the casinos do open, customers and employees will be required to wear face coverings. Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes will be available and there will be enhanced cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces, bathrooms and shared equipment.
No date has been decided for reopening Elements Casino Brantford, a spokesperson for Great Canadian Gaming Corp. said Tuesday. “At this time, a date has not been determined when Elements Casino Brantford will reopen, but we will be announcing further details once confirmed,” Chuck Keeling, Great Canadian’s executive vice-president, stakeholder relations, told The Expositor. “Throughout the entire period that COVID-19 has been a public health concern, the health and safety of our guests and team members has been our highest priority.”
Great Canadian temporarily suspended gaming at its facilities across Canada on March 16 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was made after consultation with public health officials and lottery corporations in jurisdictions where Great Canadian has gaming facilities, including Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. At the time, Great Canadian said the suspensions were temporary and would be reviewed as the COVID-19 situation evolved.
Last week, Premier Doug Ford announced that most of the province, including Brantford and Brant County, could move into Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan, which includes the reopening of casinos.
Elements Casino Brantford has more than 600 slot machines, table games, a poker room, as well as a restaurant and a bar and grill. Great Canadian also operates gaming facilities in Kawartha, Belleville, Peterborough, Thousand Islands, Grand River.
The casinos are regulated by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and the Ontario Lottery Corp., which last week said reopenings are contingent on having a safety plan for sites. The plan, which must include mandatory use of masks or face-coverings for customers, is to reviewed by an appropriate expert and submitted to the commission for review.
Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Ltd., which operates several facilities in southwestern Ontario, including Woodstock, also has yet to set a date for reopening its facilities.