The British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) recently released a video in which B.C. casino workers plead for land-based gaming facilities to reopen again.
Gaming facilities across the province have been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020.
The video titled “Don’t Forget About Casino Workers” features workers from New Westminster’s Starlight casino. The video has been endorsed by Burnaby-based Gateway Casinos and Entertainment.
In the video, numerous employees urge the province to reopen facilities.
Manuella, a slot attendant and member of the occupational health and safety board at Starlight, explains that as soon as the casino was shut down, the union and Gateway made every effort to reopen with safety protocols.
“The malls are open, the schools are open, I’m not understanding why the casino industry is not open,” she said.
Jagmeet, another worker at Starlight, says he is also wondering the same thing. “I talked to my coworkers, all of them, mostly they are struggling on EI. I am worried about my expenses. I don’t know what will happen next.”
Tanya Gabara, director of public relations for Gateway, says B.C. remains the only jurisdiction in North America that has completely refused to permit casinos to reopen. In an email to Burnaby Now, she says data from the reopening of gaming facilities in other Canadian provinces have not shown casinos as a source of community spread.
“Gateway reopened multiple casinos (with capacity restrictions, barriers and physical distancing measures) in Ontario and Alberta in October/November 2020, and again in early February,” Gabara writes. “We have not seen any instances of the spread of COVID-19 within these facilities.”
In a recent statement, the provincial Ministry of Health recognized the closure of gambling facilities has had significant impacts on communities and the thousands of British Columbians who work in the gambling industry. There is no firm date for casinos to reopen.
However, the statement did note that the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) and the casino industry have submitted their safety plans for review by WorksafeBC and the Provincial Health Office, “so that casinos are ready to reopen as soon as the PHO indicates they are able to.”
While casinos cannot yet reopen, some amenities can. The Atlas Steak + Fish eatery at Gateway’s Cascades Casino Kamloops reopened its doors on March 30, the second of three of the on-site restaurants to resume operations. That has allowed at least 20 more workers have been able to return to work.
Gabara says Gateway is thrilled that it has been given the go-ahead to reopen some of its restaurants and diners.
B.C. has taken perhaps the hardest stance on land-based gaming of any Canadian province or territory or any U.S. state throughout the pandemic. While other provinces like Ontario have gone through numerous reopenings and closures in line with health advice and regional changes to the COVID-19 framework, B.C. has opted for a blanket approach.
Interim British Columbia Lottery Corporation CEO Lynda Cavanaugh has said BCLC is anxious to reopen casinos and is working closely with the provincial government to achieve that aim.
Data shows that nearly 37,000 people were employed through B.C.’s gaming, entertainment, leisure and hospitality sectors pre-COVID-19, including over 10,000 people directly employed by gaming operators in casinos, community gaming centres, bingo centres, and horse racetracks.