British Columbia

Here's what B.C. casinos might look like when they (eventually) reopen

There’s no set date for casinos to reopening in B.C., but plans are already underway for what the “new normal” might look like during COVID-19. 

Industry leaders want gaming back up and running, but there's no end to closures in sight

There's no timeline from the provincial government indicating when casinos, including Parq in downtown Vancouver, will reopen. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Lots of Plexiglas, fewer slot machines and rules to not touch the cards. 

There's no set date for when casinos in B.C. might start reopening, but plans are already underway for what the "new normal" for casinos might look like during COVID-19. 

The provincial government said in a statement issued Wednesday that the timing of a safe restart is a "complicated consideration." Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in May casinos would be last on her list to consider for reopening.

Some other parts of Canada, including Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec, have already allowed casinos to reopen under new guidelines including physical distancing.

Casinos across the province shut down in March due to COVID-19. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Industry leaders hope something similar could happen in B.C.

"We'd like to see them as soon as it's possible," said Paul Burns, president of the Canadian Gaming Association trade association.

In the meantime, the B.C. Lottery Corporation is preparing as best as it can for an uncertain future. 

The BCLC says when casinos reopen they plan to:

  • Reconfigure seating at slot machines and table games to allow two metres distance between players. 
  • Install Plexiglas or other physical barriers when distancing isn't possible.
  • Provide free hand sanitizer.
  • Regularly sanitize all gambling equipment, such as dice.
  • Only allow games where cards can be handled exclusively by the dealer.
  • Train all staff about new protocols.

Industry eager to reopen

Burns said the process should start incrementally, considering the impact the closures have had on revenue and thousands of staff members.

"No one walks into their business plan thinking I'm going to be closed for five, six months," he said. 

In the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year, casinos brought in $1.4 billion in net income for the province of B.C., helping to fund health care, education and community programs.  

Exterior of Parq Casino located next to BC Place in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Paul Finch, treasurer for the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, said 2,800 of his members who work at casinos have been off work since March. 

"They've been hit very hard throughout this entire period as has most of the hospitality sector in B.C.," Finch said. 

He said most are eligible for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy Program, meaning they would continue taking home 75 percent of their usual wages until December. 

"Anecdotally, we know that a number of people have had to seek other employment where they can," he said.

Confidence to move forward, safely

Burns is confident when it's time to reopen, casinos are well positioned to do so. 

"Ultimately we want to open when it's safe to do so," Burns said. 

He explained that many casinos are located in buildings with high ceilings, efficient ventilation systems and the industry is used to following government regulations.   

"Staff on the gaming floors implement policies and procedures dictated by government every day and every time they go to work. So this is nothing new for gaming employees," Burns said.  


Micki Cowan


Micki is a reporter and producer at CBC Vancouver. Her passions are municipal issues and water security.


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