CGB Rewind: land-based casinos find their feet once more in action-packed 2022

2022 was a landmark year for the Canadian gaming industry. Land-based casinos finally bounced back from the pandemic, with many of the restrictions finally abandoned by the government. It was also a year in which casinos aimed to find their place in the gaming landscape in Ontario post igaming launch. 

Join us at Canadian Gaming Business as we look back at a whirlwind year for land-based casinos across the country during 2022. 

Q1 – the COVID battle

It may seem like the pandemic was a distant memory, but let it not be forgotten that throughout the first quarter of 2022, Canadian casinos were still reeling from the newly imposed shutdowns due to the omicron variant of COVID-19. 

From Jan 5, the province closed casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments for a minimum of three weeks. They eventually opened again at the end of January. 

Moreover, Quebec ordered all casinos closed in December as well as VLTs, bingo, and bar games to temporarily shut down. Quebec casinos did not re-open until Feb 28, leaving roughly 2,300 employees being reassigned to customer service roles with Loto-Quebec across the province.

Meanwhile, Q1 also saw casinos in Saskatchewan benefiting from an uplift in VLT commission following a review of the provincial government’s budget. 

Operators previously received 15% of net sales as a commission, with the remaining 85% going to the province, but the updated budget mandated a rise to 18%. 

Finally, Q1 marked the soft launch of Gateway Casino & Entertainment’s new Cascades Casino North Bay. Initially supposed to be open in the summer of 2020 before the pandemic derailed that timeline, the $31m casino finally opened its doors to the public on Mar 9.

Q2 – Making moves as Ontario goes online

The major Canadian gaming story was the launch of Ontario’s private igaming market, but casino operators were aiming to get a piece of the pie. 

Gateway Casinos declared that the opening of its North Bay casino had ‘“exceeded our wildest dreams”, with all 300 slot machines regularly full on a daily basis in the first few weeks and months of operations. 

Meanwhile, traditional land-based casino operator Mohegan managed to get a slice of the online pie, becoming the first brick-and-mortar operator to go online in Ontario, launching PlayFallsview

Despite murmurings from some that online gaming would steal business away from land-based casinos following the launch of Ontario, Mohegan were happy to jump right in, denying that online gaming would “cannibalize” its business. 

“Online gaming has been alive and well in the province of Ontario for probably 15, if not 16 years”, Niagara Casino President Richard Taylor told Canadian Gaming Business in the fall edition of the CGB Magazine. “To say it’s now going to start to cannibalize our business? Well, if it was, it would have already done so.”

Q3 – Expansion and transformation

Q3 began on a slightly sour note as it emerged that Rideau Carleton Casino had been fined more than $227,000 by the AGCO for dozens of alleged regulatory violations, including “repeatedly” failing to implement, follow and enforce anti-money laundering policies and procedures.

AGCO CEO Tom Mungham said: “These penalties are intended to drive the improvements needed at the Rideau Carleton Casino, and we will be carefully monitoring the casino’s activities to ensure these significant audit findings are addressed.”

However, not all was bad for the industry in Q3 as Great Canadian became Great Canadian Entertainment in a rebrand that kickstarted a “strategy to set a new industry standard for gaming entertainment in Canada”.

Finally, casino gaming expanded in BC as BCLC celebrated the opening of Cascades Casino in Delta. Opened in partnership with Gateway Casinos, the venue created 600 new jobs in Delta.

Q4 – Ending the year on a positive

Q4 saw two key announcements in the casino industry. Firstly, Gateway opened the new Playtime Casino Wasaga Beach, a $34.3m Ontario-based casino which created 140 new jobs.

Meanwhile, OLG partnered with Mohegan to announce that global superstar musician Billy Joel would perform at the grand opening of the new OLG Stage at Fallsview Casino.

Taking place on Feb. 23, 2023, the grand opening will see Joel play hits from his illustrious career such as ‘Big Shot’, ‘Piano Man’ and ‘It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me’ to celebrate OLG’s updated stage at Fallsview. 

Finally, Great Canadian ended a transformative year by unveiling Matthew Anfinson as its new CEO and Jordan Banks as the company’s first executive chairperson.

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