lberta bingo hall, casino operators could be allowed to reopen in Alberta’s next phase of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The government expects gaming revenue to see a huge rebound this year.
Casinos, racetracks and bingo halls were among those originally set to reopen at the beginning of March, but are now slated to reopen as part of Alberta’s Step 3, which could come by the end of March.
Edmonton’s Castledowns Bingo Hall manager Brenda Pope said even after the majority of Albertans are immunized, the hall will still need to enforce strict safety precautions, from temperature checks to sanitizing some high-touch surfaces every 20 minutes, Edmonton Journal reports.
John Szumlas, head of Bingo Alberta, said they’re holding virtual training refreshers in the coming weeks to make sure staff and volunteers are up to speed on all COVID-19 protocol. “There will be virus hesitancy even once the halls are open,” said Szumlas. He added halls will need to combat that uncertainty by strictly adhering to provincial guidelines, something he hopes they will get an update on from provincial officials soon.
Vik Mahajan, CEO at River Cree Resort and Casino, said the casino’s roughly 1,000 employees are eager to get back to work. “We can open at a moment’s notice,” he said. He estimated that between full closures and the restrictions in 2020, VLTs were closed for about 160 days and tables games were closed for more than 200 days.
Casinos around the province invested about $10 million towards safety measures during COVID-19, from sanitization to physical barriers. “We need to find a way to work through these things as opposed to just closing things,” Mahajan said.
Beginning last year, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis launched an online gaming portal. And eight bingo halls around the province introduced video bingo events for people to play from home. Szumlas said it was a “wonderful reality” that virtual bingo events could continue. Bingo Alberta won’t push the province to allow opening if the science suggests it’s not safe to do so, Szumlas said.
After falling to an estimated $527 million during the pandemic, according to the 2021-22 provincial budget, the Alberta government is forecasting $1.25 billion in gaming and lottery revenue in 2021-22, with a fiscal year beginning April 1.
Mahajan said the government’s revenue projections are feasible because there is “pent-up demand,” if facilities like casinos are allowed to reopen as scheduled and people feel comfortable visiting. The government expects that with a successful mass vaccination program, annual gaming revenue will recover relatively quickly, and even grow to $1.5 billion by 2023-24.