After more than six months of forced closures due to COVID-19, some of Ontario's biggest casinos have finally been given the green light to reopen.
Operations resumed at 11 Great Canadian Gaming Corp. sites across the province this morning at 10 a.m. Half an hour later, at 10:30 a.m., Ontario reported the highest number of new cases it had seen in one day — 700 new infections — since the pandemic first hit.
While in no way connected to casinos reopening, the spike is raising questions about whether or not lifting any restrictions makes sense right now.
This is ridiculous. Prioritizing the opening of casinos as Ontario enters second wave is irresponsible and an unnecessary public health gamble. https://t.co/eMMYWzHb8m— Mike Layton (@m_layton) September 28, 2020
Casinos were technically allowed to resume operations under Stage 3, with restrictions including a ban on all table games in place, but hadn't until today due to pending approvals from the AGCO.
"Any plans for re-opening must be independently reviewed by a health and safety subject matter expert and submitted to the regulator, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO)," explained Rob Mitchell of Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited to blogTO in July.
Gateway has resumed operations at some of its restaurants, but has not yet announced reopening dates for its casinos, nor have the operators of two popular casinos in Niagara Falls.
Caesar's Windsor will reopen on October 8 with AGCO-approved restrictions in place.
Wow. 700 new cases in Ontario today AND we're reopening casinos? You know who likes going to casinos right? Old people. @fordnation— June Shoji (@littlehobo1a) September 28, 2020
Table games at casinos and gaming establishments remain banned at all casinos, per Stage 3 guidelines, regardless of whether the AGCO has approved their reopening plans.
As of this morning, Great Canadian Gaming Corp. patrons can book appointments to play slot machines for up to two hours at a time.
Hand sanitizers have been placed throughout the 11 major casinos reopening today and only 50 people are permitted inside each venue to comply with current social gathering limits.
Casino Woodbine's website shows that all possible time slots for the next five days have already been booked.
Coincidentally the same day the Ontario government re-opened casinos. What the hell is the second wave response plan? The Ford government is being way too reactive and not proactive, and they're putting profits over people. Their incompetence making things worse. #onpoli #COVID19 https://t.co/PgQTOFxFM1— Matt Müller (@Historian_Matt) September 28, 2020
Capacity limits and hand sanitizers are all well and good, but are the measures being taken by casino operators enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
They haven't been for some popular downtown Toronto bars and restaurants, at least five of which were either closed down or warned by health officials over the weekend for failing to follow pandemic protocols.
With new cases surging and Ontario public health officials confirming that a second wave has hit, many people think that allowing casinos to reopen at all is a dangerous move.
"I can't believe it's right to reopen Ontario's casinos in the midst of a pandemic. Up to 50 people gathering unnecessarily, including seniors, goes against everything we've learned," said Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow Monday morning.
"I know our economy is under pressure, but the price of gambling with public health isn't worth it."
Today in Ontario as the planet burns and we face the biggest single day increase of COVID cases since the pandemic started and you can’t get a COVID test because we still can’t meet demand but at least you can at visit a casino again. Capitalism is killing us.— Jihan Abbas PhD (@JihanAbbas) September 28, 2020
Some are also confused and concerned to see casinos open just days after all strip clubs were been ordered by the province to close and bars given a new last call time of 11 p.m.
"To recap what's going on in Ontario: Strip clubs are closed but casinos just re-opened, and restaurants now have an 11 p.m. last call for alcohol," wrote one resident on Twitter today.
"There doesn't really seem to be much rhyme or reason to any decisions. It's mostly just penny-pinching with some optics."
Meanwhile, the provincial government has yet to reveal what it calls a "comprehensive plan to prepare the health system for a second wave of COVID-19."
Ontario started rolling out details pertaining to its fall COVID-19 preparedness plan last week, including an aggressive flu shot campaign and the expansion of testing to 60 pharmacies, but has yet to put forth any official documents as of Monday afternoon.
by Lauren O'Neil via blogTO