Charitable Gaming Facing Challenges in 2020
CGaming veteran Carol Holmes outlines to Canadian Gaming Business how COVID-19 has hit the industry, and what the future may hold
By Tom Nightingale
September 14, 2020
Sometimes, life is all about timing. For Carol Holmes, a 36-year veteran of the bingo industry, that’s certainly been true in 2020. Holmes owns her own charitable gaming compliance consulting company which she started last winter after years in a similar role for OLG. However, external circumstances mean that things have certainly not started off as she was anticipating.
“CGaming is totally different to any other gaming industry,” Holmes recently told Canadian Gaming Business. One way in which it is similar, though, is that the effects of COVID-19 have been felt just as keenly in bingo halls as in casinos.
When assessing the impact of the pandemic on the gaming industry, it’s large-scale land-based gaming that likely comes to mind for most. Holmes suggested that brings the whole of the industry under increased scrutiny, and can result in the tarring of charitable gaming and its much smaller venues with the same brush. “Any comments I see from the public are ‘oh great, open a casino, everybody’s too close’ but that’s not so much for CGaming centres,” she told CGB. “You’re not gonna get 500, 600, 1000 people through.”
Holmes has been at the forefront of efforts in Ontario to ensure that charitable gaming locations have been meeting the various health and safety requirements laid out in 2020, what may be dubbed the year of the virus.
She works with eight CGaming sites in Ontario and one non-CGaming site, and she explained that things changed drastically once the virus hit. She spent time attending the closed sites during the early months to help some of the sites with the health and safety plans they had to develop for the provincial government. As she put it, “I took the guidelines and made sure we followed them and put everything into play.” She added that even with sites shut, the regulatory and admin work didn’t vanish. She reduced all of her contract fees and took on the extra health and safety work at no extra cost.
In the early stages of the changed landscape, there were natural frustrations from operators and customers alike that gaming was subject to so many regulations and new measures. “A lot of it was ‘well, I go to Walmart and they‘re not doing it and I go here and they’re not doing it and we have to jump through all these hoops’.” Her response was always that the gaming industry simply cannot be held up alongside any other retail location or industry. “It’s a very different experience so we have to stop comparing ourselves to others, this is what we have to do,” Holmes said.
While opinion soon came around, it’s been far from easy, as her clients and their contractors have had to do a huge amount of unexpected work under drastic financial constraints to meet requirements. “They essentially had no income for four months,” she noted.
"Better than nothing"
When sites were finally able to begin to reopen, there were more setbacks. The initial plan was for the allowing of 50% of normal capacity, which her clients had been working towards. Imagine their frustrations, then, when the goalposts were moved, with a limited occupancy of 50 people put in place.
“Sites can’t open up with the bingo session play, they can only open up with upright cabinet games and even then, only some of the games because of the social distancing requirements,” explained Holmes. While they could move ahead with play-on-demand games, a component of their electronic bingo stations, as a form of “overflow”, they were unable to run bingo sessions or bingo gameplay. “That makes it difficult because some sites have more success with bingo play games than upright cabinet games,” explained Holmes. “But, having said that, it’s better than nothing at all.”
In particular, she emphasized, the frustrations of limited capacity and functionality were put into perspective by what was happening south of the border in the U.S. There, many casinos and gaming sites reopened early, along with other busy venues across a range of industries, leading to spiking COVID-19 cases and a raft of re-closures. Onlooking Canadians, whether they’re operators or customers, became content to make sure things proceeded more cautiously here.
Where do we go from here?
Moving forward, with sites reopening, Holmes hopes to add more locations to her company’s arsenal after plans fell by the wayside once COVID-19 hit, and she’s also brought another industry veteran on board to help her meet her goals and ensure her company is providing its clients with a robust compliance program, as is required by the AGCO Registrar’s Standards.
As for what she hopes for the future of the industry itself? “I would hope that by summer 2021, we would be back to where we were at this point last year – everything was open and operating, no restrictions.” She acknowledged that some of the health and safety requirements may well remain in place, whether it be physical distancing or the increased hygiene and cleaning measures. That could be a positive moving forward in a post-COVID-19 world, as long as they can be scaled back somewhat.
“For the most part,” Holmes concluded, “I think the sites would deal with a longer-term requirement for some of those things as long as they are able to reopen to the full extent.”
It’s fair to say that in terms of planning for the future, in a year like 2020, all bets are off.
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