Grand Villa Casino Starts Layoffs Due to Slow Business

Nearly three years after opening in downtown Edmonton, Grand Villa Casino is laying off dozens of workers. The news came last week as numerous employees received notices of termination.

The move comes from parent company Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, which blames slow business on construction delays nearby and a lack of proper parking facilities.

Shocking News

Last week, employees at Grand Villa Casino began receiving layoff notices.

Company representatives delivered the bad news to dozens of employees of the casino itself, as well as the connected restaurants – Starbucks, Sbarro Pizza, Vera’s Burger Shack, and Pinkberry. All but Starbucks are now closed as a result of the layoffs.

CBC News reported that union representatives from the United Food and Commercial Workers union were on site to counsel employees as to their rights under the collective agreement with the casino.

A member of the union said some full-time workers were given the option to reduce their hours and work only on a part-time basis. However, they had to decide by last Friday, giving them only days to make a serious and consequential decision.

Other employees were offered the option of a “voluntary exit package” to switch from full-time to part-time work or to relocate to another casino in Edmonton.

Only two weeks before the layoffs, Gateway Casinos had published a press release announcing the reduction of hours of some employees because of low traffic. Since that was not enough, many employees received their termination notices last week.

As best as can be determined, the number of full-time positions represented by the union has been reduced from 83 to 33, though that did not include management. There were also upwards of 50 part-time workers laid off.

Reasons and Explanations

This week, Gateway Director of Public Relations Tanya Gabara responded to the layoffs. “These temporary operational changes are necessary due to the lack of business caused by the extensive delays in the construction in the downtown core and lack of well-lit surface parking in close proximity to the casino,” she said.

When asked how many employees would be affected, Gabara responded, “It is difficult to state an exact number of impacted employees at this time until all of these options have been explored with our employees, which is our priority.”

The union representative, Michael Hughes, called the layoffs “disappointing,” as employees were unclear about the message of reduced hours several weeks ago. They didn’t find out what that meant until last week when notices were given. “We’re blindsided by it,” he said.

However, Gabara insisted that Gateway and the union agreed to a “workforce adjustment” plan that will help minimize the impact of the layoffs on employees. The details of that plan are unclear.

Hughes asserted that recent collective bargaining talks left many employees with a bad taste, as they felt threated to accept certain contract concessions “with the promise that the company would be able to try and turn things around.” That happened just a few months ago.

Fallout for Employees and Public

Workers who have been fired from Grand Villa Casino will receive benefits for up to six months, though severance pay was not mentioned.

Gateway has promised that they will be called if the casino business improves and jobs begin to open up.

As for the general public, they will be able to access the casino during all major events and concerts at the nearby Rogers Place. But most weeks, the property will only be open from Thursday to Sunday from noon to 1am. The new hours will go into effect on September 15.

Other businesses have been affected by the ongoing construction in Edmonton’s downtown area as well, including cafes and small businesses that rely on steady traffic.

However, many employees were likely hoping to see more business as a result of the recent deal between the NFL and Gateway Casinos, one that could have improved business with promotions and game experiences.

It is now unclear if there will be any NFL promotions at Grand Villa in the coming months.

What a Difference Three Years Makes

Little more than three years ago, Grand Villa Casino opened to great fanfare.

People lined up to get a look at the $32 million Gateway project called Grand Villa Casino. The casino offered 600 slot machines and 28 table games, and the property opened seven restaurants. The larger of those food options were Atlas Steak and Fish and Match Eatery and Public House.

Customers of the casino were impressed. The new establishment replaced the Baccarat, an older casino with half the number of employees of the new property. Those employees had been given job opportunities at the Grand Villa, and another 200 new positions were created.

Rogers Place opened a few days later as a multi-use indoor arena that would be used for hockey games and concerts, as well as other large-scale events.


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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