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B.C. casinos to reopen Thursday as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Last Updated Jun 29, 2021 at 2:58 pm PDT

River Rock Casino in Richmond among the casinos reopening in B.C. (Courtesy riverrock.com)

Before the COVID-19, pandemic casinos employed thousands of British Columbians

Casinos across B.C. can reopen July 1 with reduced capacity

B.C. enters Step 3 of the Restart Plan Thursday, when casinos can operate again

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – You could be hitting the Jackpot in just a few days as the province has announced it will move forward with the restart plan starting July 1. The news is welcomed by the hard-hit entertainment industry, including casino operators.

Nearly 20 casinos and a dozen community gaming centres across the province have been shuttered since March of last year, leaving thousands out of work and leaving a big hole in the province’s economy. Pre-pandemic, casinos generated more than $1.3 billion a year in revenue and employed more than 37,000 people in the province.

Among those businesses now looking forward to the reopening is Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which operates nine casinos in the province, including the River Rock Casino in Richmond.

In recent months, a portion of the empty casino has been used as a COVID-19 immunization site. According to Great Canadian Gaming Corp. Executive Vice President Chuck Keeling, the River Rock will reopen Thursday but the theatre portion will remain a vaccine clinic until the health authority is no longer in need of the site.

He says the industry has been anxiously awaiting plans to restart, and have been busy with preparations to get staff trained up in order to be ready for the green light.

The casino industry was given about five weeks’ notice about the potential reopening, and Great Canadian Gaming says it began calling many of its employees to prepare them. But not everyone will be invited back for opening day due to pandemic protocols.

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But among those asked back, Keeling admits he was surprised how many staff members are able to return at all, with many having to seek other opportunities due to the year-long unemployment.

“There are pockets of our operations where we are challenged to fill certain positions. But across the board, generally speaking over 90 per cent of the ones we called are coming back,” Keeling said.

The return to play will look very different from pre-pandemic gambling. The province requires that casinos operate with reduced capacity and that barriers between players must be in place.

Great Canadian Gaming casinos says as a result of the limits on capacity and safety measures, it will not be offering some of its most popular games including craps and poker.

Keeling adds that even though the province will no longer require face coverings, guests and staff at the casino will still be required to wear one for the time being.

“Guests will be mandated to wear face coverings upon opening day. We have best in class HVAC systems to maximize air exchanges. Physically distancing of slot machines, of table games, fruit and beverages amenities, and reduced capacity in our facility,” Keeling said.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said businesses are still allowed to require masks and they will still be recommended indoors across the province for people aged 12 and up who are not fully vaccinated.

Henry says casinos have very strong plans in place to ensure safety.

With files from Kurtis Doering.