Casinos closed in Ontario, Quebec amid Omicron surge

The last weeks of 2021 and the first days of 2022 are proving to be somewhat of an unwelcome throwback to 2020-21 for Canadian gaming, with casinos closed in Canada’s two most populous provinces.*

On January 3, 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that as of January 5, the province is returning to a modified version of Stage Two of its pandemic response plan. That includes the closure of casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments across the province.

The move will see casinos closed for a minimum of 21 days, until January 26.

In addition, horse racing tracks will see indoor areas shuttered. Outdoor spaces can remain open with restrictions, including mandatory reservations and capacities limited to 50 per cent.

Not only does this close off avenues of land-based gaming for consumers and players, it will have a significant effect on casino operators, staff, and the surrounding communities.

It’s the latest in a long line of closures for Ontario’s casinos, which had shut down in March 2020 during the early pandemic panic, before slowly reopening that summer, then being shut again in the winter of 2020-21. Ontario gaming centres had only finally been able to enjoy unrestricted operation for the first time in over a year in late October. Now, they are completely shut again for the near future.

Casino Rama is just one of the many gaming centres that will have to close its doors. Orillia Matters reports that hundreds of employees will be temporarily out of work later this week.

Robert Mitchell, a spokesperson for the casino’s operator Gateway Casinos & Entertainment, said that he was not able to provide exact details about the number of employees impacted at Casino Rama. He stressed that the company will “remain optimistic” that the measure will indeed be lifted in 21 days.

It remains to be seen how Ontario’s latest closures will affect pipeline projects such as Gateway’s Cascades Casino project in North Bay. A recent update had suggested that the casino, initially slated to open in 2020 before the pandemic struck in March 2020, was on track to open in early 2022.

Ontario’s move followed Quebec, which had ordered all casinos closed as of December 20. VLTs, bingo, and bar games are also temporarily shut down in the province. It is estimated that those closures will affect roughly 2,300 employees, who are now reportedly being reassigned to customer service roles with Loto-Quebec across the province.

That announcement had come just days after a COVID-19 outbreak had been declared at Casino du Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, Queb.

While Ontario and Quebec are currently the only two provinces to order casinos closed again, 50 per cent capacity restrictions are in effect in most of the country’s other provinces including British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

*Please note that on January 20, Ontario announced that casinos will reopen on January 31.

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