British Columbia

Fort St. John urges province to reopen casinos as city revenue shrinks

The mayor of Fort St. John, B.C., is asking the provincial government to show its cards on reopening casinos, as the pandemic continues to drain municipal coffers.

Loss of gaming revenue has significant impact on community services, mayor says

Fort St. John's mayor says loss of gaming revenue is a significant blow to community programs. (CBC)

The mayor of Fort St. John, B.C., is asking the provincial government to show its cards on reopening casinos, as the pandemic continues to drain municipal coffers.

In a letter to Premier John Horgan, Mayor Lori Ackerman said her town's revenue has shrunk since mid-March from nearly $900,000 last fiscal year to around $270,000 during the first six months of this fiscal year, due to the provincially mandated closure of gambling facilities.

Ackerman said the loss of gaming revenue may lead to a reduction in community services, such as parks and recreational areas, if taxpayers don't want to see their bills increased by three per cent.

"We would have to take a look at how to trim those services that would use that money," the mayor told Carolina De Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North.

But public finance isn't the only thing that's suffering.

"I have 107 people who are unemployed that have no idea when they're going to see their next paycheque. I have people who are experiencing mental health issues as a result of this. Their families are being split up. Their vehicles are being repossessed," said Ackerman.

In a written statement to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Health said it has no firm date for the reopening of casinos. The ministry says it will look at factors such as enclosed spaces, ventilation and older populations visiting casinos when deciding whether to allow gaming centres to resume operation.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said casinos should have been allowed to reopen with proper safety measures before bars and nightclubs. Nightclubs have since been ordered closed again. (Lori Ackerman)

In May, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said reopening casinos would be last on her list.

Ackerman said she had visited a local casino where the ventilation system was upgraded to allow complete air exchange every four minutes, as well as having sanitizing stations and other COVID-19 prevention protocols in place. 

The mayor feels that the province was unfair to allow bars and nightclubs to reopen before casinos. 

"We don't know if even the bars and nightclubs that were allowed to open went to those great lengths to ensure the safety of their patrons," Ackerman said.

Last Tuesday, B.C. ordered nightclubs and stand-alone banquet halls to close following 429 COVID cases over the Labour Day weekend.

Bars must close by 11 p.m. unless they are serving food.

Lori Ackerman's letter to John Horgan

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With files from Daybreak North, Michelle Ghoussoub and Liam Britten

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