Gateway Prepares to Reopen Casino Rama After Pandemic

There is little doubt that 2020 has been and will continue to be a rough year for many businesses in Canada, including casino properties and gambling halls. Casino Rama is one of many that is currently trying to navigate the reopening process after the global pandemic closed operations in March.

As Gateway Casinos tries to facilitate that reopening, as well as numerous others in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, the entire industry must adjust to the new normal. And a part of the process is putting new casino projects like the Starlight Casino in London on an indefinite hold.

Unprecedented Success in 2019

For all intents and purposes, Gateway Casinos & Entertainment had a great 2019.

Gateway celebrated 25 years in business, employed more than 8,200 people, and had more than four property relocations and renovations in the works, not to mention several new casinos. Gateway planned to add nearly 2,000 more slot machines to its then-total of nearly 14,000, as well as nearly 100 more table games to its then-total of 440.

In addition, Gateway signed a major agreement to become the official national land-based casino partner of the NFL (National Football League) in Canada. Players in every casino property would have the opportunity to use a dedicated app to play and win prizes. It was a unique and potentially lucrative deal.

At the end of 2019, Gateway restructured its business through an agreement with Leisure Acquisition, creating a company worth approximately C$1.46 billion.

Leisure Director Marc Falcone took over as the new CEO and President of Gateway. “I believe the Canadian gaming market offers unparalleled growth opportunities,” he said, “and Gateway has always been a platform that I found to be highly compelling.”

Unprecedented Closures

It started as a virus in China near the end of 2019. The coronavirus then spread to Europe. It reached the shores of North America in February and March 2020. COVID-19 was officially a pandemic and still spreading quickly.

The Canadian government took action as warranted and shut down all non-essential businesses across the entire country, closed its borders, and tried to contain the virus.

Gateway Casinos & Entertainment was one of many companies that had to close its doors in mid-March.

The March 18 letter to all Gateway customers detailed how the governments of British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta declared states of emergency along federal and health official guidelines. Under those orders, Gateway shuttered all of its casinos.

“We are uncertain of how long this closure will be in place, but we will continue to work with the government and rely on public health recommendations as the situation unfolds. We look forward to welcoming back our employees and customers at that time.”

No one could have predicted that the shutdown would be extended several times. Two months after the original orders, casinos remained closed.

Meanwhile, the only message from Gateway to the public came in mid-April to extend appreciation to all frontline workers and first responders working through the pandemic. Gateway also noted that it donated more than 80,000 units of masks and gloves, all perishable food items from its restaurants (more than $40K worth) to food banks, and more than 49,000 units of cups, napkins, and take-out containers to those food banks.

Projects on Hold

Gateway Casinos & Entertainment put most of its building and renovation projects on hold. One of the most significant ones was the Starlight Casino in South London, Ontario.

The project took years to garner the necessary local approvals. At a price of $75 million, the Wonderland Road project was going to be at the apex of a very busy trad corridor and employ about 700 people. The 9,290-square meter establishment would include restaurants and bars, and of course a casino with 900 slot machines and 40 table games.

There was also the Cascades Casino in North Bay, Ontario. It was scheduled to open this spring, but construction stopped weeks ago. Gateway Director of Communications Rob Mitchell had no idea when it might resume. “Our primary focus is reopening our 12 existing sites across the province.”

With the future of casinos in flux for the foreseeable future, moving forward with expensive projects was not really a great option.

Starting to Ponder Reopening Properties

While Gateway has released no official word regarding the reopening of an of its casinos, many assume it is doing what many other companies are doing: trying to figure out how to reopen. With COVID-19 still a danger and no vaccine produced, every business open to the public will be operating going forward with significant health and safety procedures in place.

That is difficult for a casino. People touch machines, tables, chairs, money, and chips. They are generally close together. But not anymore. At the very least, not this year.

Casino Rama is one of the properties preparing to reopen, though it has yet to determine how best to protect staff and customers.

Mitchell commented, “We are working with the government and the Canadian Gaming Association on developing stringent health and safety protocols for reopening that adhere to guidance from public health officials and our regulatory agencies.”

It is unclear as to how and when the public will learn of the new standards and when customers will be welcomed back. Gateway is likely to issue a statement in the coming weeks.


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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