Gamblers could return to the slot machines and card tables in View Royal within a week as operators of Elements Casino hustle to rehire staff, prepare safety procedures and ramp up food and beverage services.
The six municipalities that take a 10% share of casino revenues are also cautiously optimistic for a green light from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry for a July 1 opening of gambling establishments in the province.
Chuck Keeling, vice-president of stakeholder relations and gaming relations for Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which operates the View Royal casino, said about 200 employees have been called back and the facility has been outfitted with barriers and sanitizing stations to meet provincial guidelines.
The province says the reopening of casinos after a 16-month closure will depend on vaccination rates rising and COVID cases dropping. Keeling said if the approval is granted, Elements and the company’s Nanaimo casino would open “sometime in the morning on July 1.”
“All the metrics are positive … we are ready,” said Keeling.
He said Elements will operate at about half capacity to accommodate two-metre space requirements. That means only about 500 of the usual 900 positions at slot machines and gaming tables will be open.
B.C. Lottery Corp, which regulates gambling in the province, said casinos will look and feel a little different at first. For starters, there will be a lot fewer people.
Cards will only be dealt face-up by a dealer from behind a Plexiglas divider, and games will be limited to four or five players who won’t be allowed to touch the cards.
The lone exception is the game of Squeeze Baccarat, which will use new decks for each game. Chips will be cleaned frequently throughout the day and dice will be disinfected after each shooter.
At Elements, every other slot machine will be turned off, and mingling or congregating to watch others won’t be allowed.
Keeling said the Elements lounge and restaurant will be open, but with limited and spaced seating. Buffet offerings will resume at a later date.
View Royal and Langford each take 45% of casino revenue allocated to local government. The remainder is shared by Esquimalt, Highlands, Colwood, Sooke and Metchosin.
View Royal Mayor David Screech estimates the total loss of revenue for the participating municipalities during the 16-month closure to be about $6 million. View Royal’s share of that is between $2 million and $2.5 million, he said.
“We had our budget challenges, but we deferred projects and rearranged some things,” said Screech. “We were able to absorb it without a tax increase.”
Screech said some roadwork in the town and playground projects were deferred, community grants were held back or reduced and some long-term planning using consultants was cut back.
Casino revenues are also used to pay the bill for Westshore Parks and Recreation facilities and services, but grants through the province’s restart plan covered that tab, said Screech.
The mayor said he expects the revenue sharing will take some time to reach pre-pandemic levels, as Elements Casino will only be operating gaming at half capacity to start. “We’ll see how this goes … I suspect there will be some reluctance for people to be out in public spaces and it will take some time to get things back to normal,” said Screech.
Keeling said the casino normally employs about 270 people, more than half of whom have been with the company more than 10 years. He said he was surprised by how many want to come back. “It’s the best piece of news, and one we didn’t expect, after being shut down so long.”
Keeling said Elements also relies on about 130 Greater Victoria businesses that supply the casino with various goods and services, and will resume supporting many of the 370 charities and non-profits in the region as operations ramp up.
B.C. will be among the last provinces to reopen casinos. Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia opened last week and Alberta 10 days ago. New Brunswick and Manitoba have been open for some time now, and Ontario plans to restart gambling in mid-July.