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 started her own charitable gaming compliance consulting company last winter after years in a similar role for OLG but external circumstances mean that things have 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 charitable gaming centres as in casinos, even though the crowds are generally much smaller. “You’re not going to get 500, 600, 1000 people through,” noted Holmes.
Due to the hordes who enjoy casino gaming, when assessing the impact of the pandemic on the gaming industry, it’s large-scale land-based venues that likely comes to mind for most. cGaming, though, rallied together with the casino industry to devise joint standards for opening facilities back up to the public.
In recent months, Holmes has been focusing her efforts on ensuring that cGaming locations have been meeting the various health and safety requirements laid out in 2020, what may be dubbed the year of the virus.
Holmes 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 them implement their specific individual health and safety plans, in accordance with the joint overarching guidelines developed by the Canadian Gaming Association, the Commercial Gaming Association of Ontario, and provincial operators. 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 customers that gaming was subject to so many regulations and new measures. In reality, though, that’s a particular strength of the gaming industry in times like these – it’s governed by stringent regulatory controls and health and safety standards that make it the most highly regulated industry in the hospitality sector. In that way, Holmes acknowledged, it’s unique. “It’s a very different experience, so we have to stop comparing ourselves to others. This is what we have to do.”
While opinion has come 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.
During the transition towards welcoming customers back, there have of course been limitations. It’s impossible to avoid in 2020.
“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 public’s frustrations of limited capacity and functionality were put into perspective by what was happening south of the border in the U.S. There, an early reopening of the economy in some states was subsequently met with spiking COVID-19 cases. For onlooking Canadians, the importance of patience and caution has been apparent.
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 to ensure she is providing 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.
“For the most part,” Holmes concluded, “I think the sites would deal with a longer-term requirement for 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.