Little Recourse for Casino Employees in Coronavirus Era

The incidences of the coronavirus across Canada and the subsequent measures to prevent its spread have damaged businesses of all kinds. The gaming industry is not without its share of the pain, as gambling halls, card rooms, and casinos closed across the country.

What is often left out of the larger conversation is the workers. The vast majority of casino employees are not only without work but without any income.

Canadian Gaming Association

The premier national trade association representing Canada’s gaming industry is the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA). However, its website remains mostly silent on the issue of casino closures and the affected workers.

The CGA did send a message to its members, stating that the organization supports taking whatever steps are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. “We will work with government to ensure that our industry rides out this closure and emerges as a strong employer and economic partner.”

What the CGA did provide was numbers. As of March 24:

  • Nearly every one of the 114 casinos in Canada closed.
  • More than 200 bingo halls and gaming centres closed.
  • Canadian gaming provides approximately 182,500 jobs.
  • Canadian gaming pays nearly $1 billion in employee wages every month.
  • Gaming operators generate $9.2 billion annually for government services and charities.

Obviously, the jobs and wages numbers were prior to the shutdowns.

The CGA also notes that it wants to make sure “we have the opportunity to get as many employees as possible back to work as soon as possible.”

Thousands of Gateway Casinos Employees

According to Gateway Casinos & Entertainment’s website, the company employed more than 8,200 people in its 25 gaming properties. Within the last several weeks, as all Gateway casinos closed per government orders, the majority of them lost their jobs.

“We look forward to welcoming back our employees and customers at this time,” read the notice.

While Gateway didn’t speak publicly about its policy to pay its employees during the shutdown, which could last months, some employees are speaking for themselves.

Bay Today reported that Casino Rama employees will not receive any benefits beyond April 30. Initially, employees received a memo after the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission ordered Casino Rama (and other establishments in Ontario) closed on March 17. That memo told them that Gateway would cover benefits for the “duration of the closure.

An anonymous employee told the media that he was angry about the cutoff date of April 30 after having worked for the company for more than a decade.

The employees are unionized, and Unifor did respond to their concerns. However, Unifor’s collective bargaining agreement only requires the casino to cover an employee’s benefits for six weeks after a temporary layoff.

Even so, Unifor Assistant to the President Deb Tveit said that the pandemic closures are “exceptional” circumstances. Unifor did call for Gateway to extend coverage for the duration of the casino closures.

Hundreds of Manitoba Casino Employees

Casinos in Winnipeg shut down in mid-March on orders from the Manitoba government, also due to coronavirus concerns. Hundreds of employees were told that they would be paid through March 31, after which they could use any sick or vacation time they had accumulated. Temporary layoffs would kick in after that.

The General Employees’ Union represents about 260 of the employees and urged employers to redeploy them where possible and use employment insurance to help all of them.

According to CBC, Union President Michelle Gawronsky said, “We are calling on the province to partner with the federal government to support workers and thereby support the entire provincial and national economy.”

Hundreds of SaskGaming Employees

The two primary casinos in Saskatchewan – Casino Regina and Casino Moose Jaw – laid off approximately 550 employees when they closed their doors on March 17. The casinos vowed to pay them for two weeks after the closure, but layoffs will begin on April 3.

However, the union representing 497 of those employees said the Crown Corporation should be paying employees for a longer period of time.

SaskGaming and the union did agree, however, that all employees will have the opportunity to return to their jobs when the casinos reopen. This allows them to access government programs in the meantime.

The union will file a policy grievance with the Minister of Labour regarding the layoffs and the cutoff for wages, which the union says violates the collective bargaining agreement.

Federal Government Aid

The Canadian government took several steps right away to help Canadians. There are several measures from which to choose:

  • Emergency Care Benefit for those sick, quarantined, or caring for children of up to $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks.
  • Goods and Services Tax credits of $400 for individuals and $600 for couples for low- and modest-income Canadians
  • Canada Child Benefit increased by $300 per child
  • Indigenous Community Support Fund increased by $305 million
  • Canada Student Loans on a six-month, interest-free moratorium

The government is also implementing tax flexibilities, tax payment deferments, and the reduction of required minimum withdrawals from retirement fund accounts.

Canada’s government also provides an updated Canadian economic response plan web page.


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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