U.S. Casinos Eagerly Await November Return of Canadian Staff & Visitors

Just as happened the other way around in August when Canada began to allow visitors from the U.S., casinos in northern U.S. states are eagerly awaiting the return of Canadian visitors and staff.

COVID-19 has halted the flow of visitors in the traditionally busy time of Fall in northern U.S. states, when Canadian visitors typically flood into the region to celebrate holidays like Canadian Thanksgiving.

Last week, businesses all along the border were celebrating the news that in November, fully vaccinated Canadians would again be allowed into the United States via land crossings such as the ones between Ontario and New York/Michigan, British Columbia and Washington, and Thunder Bay and Minnesota.

That sentiment has been seen on both sides of the border, particular around busy communities such as Niagara Falls and Detroit-Windsor.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle had been clamouring for the Biden administration to lift the ban on Canadians’ nonessential travel for months, particularly after the Canadian government eased restrictions entering in August.
Leaders of several casinos and tribal gaming centres, such as the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, are eagerly awaiting the return of Canadian gamblers, the absence of whom has been hugely damaging, notes the New York Times.

It is an almost universal truth to say that casinos along the Canada-U.S. border rely heavily on tourism that crosses that boundary by vehicle. For the last 20 months, many of these have been hanging on by thread in the face of vastly reduced revenues, while others have simply been unable to take the financial losses and have closed their doors for good.

Officials with Tulalip Resort Casino in Tulalip, Wash. said local guests have been the lifeline surviving the pandemic without tourists from British Columbia.

“We’ve kind of ridden that roller coaster up and down—restrictions loosening, tightening. But it’s really been dependent on our local Washingtonians, then it kind of expanded into Oregon and Idaho. But those guests from the north those are the ones that represent an even larger number,” said Troy Longwith, VP of hotel operations at Tulalip Resort Casino, per Q13 Fox.

Longwith said before the borders closed, they would host about 500 charter buses per year full of Canadian tourists, representing tens of thousands of people gaming and staying overnight.

“That’s a big chunk of folks that we just haven’t seen for almost 20 months. So, whenever there’s been an inkling of the Canadian border maybe opening, those folks that we talk to almost daily up there are just chomping at the bit,” said Longwith.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, a few kilometres from the border and Thunder Bay, Ont., employs many Canadians, according to Linda Jurek, executive director of Visit Cook County.

“They have a lot of day tripping traffic and a lot of overnight traffic as well,” Jurek told CBC. “They’ve been really struggling without that population able to visit.”

Grand Portage’s marketing director Todd Ford told TBNewsWatch that November “can’t come soon enough”. While some of the casino and resort’s Canadian staff have been able to cross the border as essential workers, reopening the border will now allow others to return to their jobs.

Pandemic-era restrictions such as mask-wearing, social distancing, sanitizing, and, in many places, proof of vaccination for entry will of course remain in place as Canadian workers and visitors return, as they did when U.S. citizens were allowed back to Canadian facilities in late summer.

That is something casino operators have long ago got used to. Ultimately, it’s a case of doing what is necessary to allow gaming centres to operate as fully as they can, with Canadians as a core part of that.

“I think we have felt it,” says Omak, Wash. mayor Cindy Gagne of the city missing Canadian tourism, per Global News.
Located about an hour south of the B.C. border community of Osoyoos, Omak, Wash. has a population of around 5,000. Prior to the border being closed, it was common to see scores of B.C. licence plates in Omak on any given day.

Gagne said certain places, like the casino in the area, rely on Canadian traffic. She is confident that visitors will have the confidence to come back, even if it begins slowly from November. “I think people will be careful,” said Gagne. “But I do expect a trickle initially, and then people will go back to normal. We’re excited.”

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