Are Canadian Casinos in Danger of Closing Again?

Canada has taken an extremely cautious and measured approach to reopening many businesses this year. The initial shutdown happened quickly in mid-March. As the first cases of Covid-19 hit Canada from Europe and Asia, Canada took swift action to close all nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Canadian government provided guidelines and health experts, but provinces were able to make most of their decisions regarding reopening of various industries.

By the end of June, only a small portion of the casinos and gambling halls throughout Canada had reopened. Even those did so on a very limited basis, keeping the number of customers low and most bars closed. Every establishment distanced its machines, limited table game play, and prohibited poker altogether. More casinos followed in July in the same phased way.

Even so, the future remains unclear.

There is no vaccine, and there will not be one widely available until well into 2021, most likely. And the reopenings have prompted more virus spread. With more cases on top of colder weather and the seasonal flu, there is a distinct danger of another shutdown. At the very least, there could be a rollback.

Second Wave?

Most scientists attribute the coronavirus pandemic’s path thus far to the initial wave of the virus.

As reopenings continued and increased in size and scope, however, more positive cases followed. Some scientists believe this is the beginning of the second wave. And the numbers of late are concerning.

Just this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared the second wave underway. “We’re on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring,” he said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reported a rise of nearly three times the number of cases in just five weeks. And as seen in other countries as well, it is Canadians under the age of 40 that seem to be the worse offenders and cause of the spread.

As of September 24, the national average that was approximately 380 cases per day in mid-August rose to 1,114 cases per day. And the numbers continue to rise. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam called this moment a crossroads with the disease’s trajectory. “Unless public health and individual protective measures are strengthened and we work together to slow the spread of the virus, the situation is on track for a big resurgence in a number of provinces.”

Numbers Tell a Story

Overall in Canada, the total number of positive cases across the country was 151,671 as of September 26. By province, the problem areas are easier to pinpoint.

  • Quebec = 71,005 positive cases
  • Ontario = 49,340 positive cases
  • Alberta = 17,343 positive cases
  • British Columbia = 8,641 positive cases
  • Saskatchewan = 1,863 positive cases
  • Manitoba = 1,829 positive cases
  • Nova Scotia = 1,087 positive cases

All other provinces are well below 1,000 positive cases each. Of those above, however, Nova Scotia has kept its curve flat in recent months, while Manitoba has had the most significant increase percentage. All of the others are clearly on the rise.

As mentioned, the demographics tell a story of young people spreading the virus faster that most. Of all reported cases to date, these are the age groups most affected:

  • Ages 20-29: 6% (26,211 cases)
  • Ages 30-39: 15% (22,375 cases)
  • Ages 40-49: 7% (21,840 cases)
  • Ages 80 and over: 2% (19,572 cases)
  • Ages 19 and under: 2% (15,172 cases)

Pushes to Reopen and Stay Open

From trade organizations to unions, the push for more reopenings of businesses – and the need to remain open – is unmistakable. They all claim that the shutdown and substantial restrictions were too damaging, and reopenings must take place to prevent further economic and societal harm.

In mid-June, the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) praised Alberta and Nova Scotia for allowing casinos to prepare for reopening. In July, the organization praised the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority for opening its nine casinos.

Unifor, which serves as the largest private sector union in Canada, had enough of the shutdowns and issued a statement at the beginning of September. “Enough is enough,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “It’s time to safely reopen casinos so gaming workers can get back to work and support their families. There’s just no sound science that justifies reopening Walmarts, gyms, and restaurants while at the same time keeping the casinos closed. There’s no logic behind the decision, and it’s placing a perfectly legal sector in jeopardy.”

Dias went on to note the thousands of workers in the gaming sector still out of work and those who lost their jobs altogether. As a representative organization for approximately 9,000 of those workers, Unifor urged the government to allow casinos to fully reopen with safety protocols in place.

Mayors in Ontario did the same just two weeks ago, beckoning the Premier, Minister of Finance, Minister of Health, and Chief Medical Office of Health to review proposed measures from the gaming industry and reopen. They noted that approximately 17,000 employees in the gaming industry are out of work in Ontario alone, and current plans are not sufficient to get those people back to work.

Even considering the latest surge in cases, Mayor Drew Dilkens of Windsor urged a dialogue between health officials and representatives for the gaming industry. He claimed there had been no direct conversations to date and wants to work with them to reopen safely and more quickly.

In a year as unpredictable as 2020 has been thus far, it is safe to say that no one knows the direction of the conversations, reopenings, and pandemic.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. From her days in the WPT offices to covering summers of WSOP tournament action, she also followed gambling legislation to Washington D.C. and women-only poker to the Bahamas. Meanwhile, she lived in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for many years before moving back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Now, Jen travels less, writing about poker and online gambling from her home with her two dogs watching her every move. In her spare time, she follows politics, works on her never-finished novels, and learns Italian in the hopes of retiring to Italy someday.

If you want to know more, you can follow Jen on Twitter @WriterJen


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