Ontario’s Casino Rama shut its doors on March 16, 2020, due to the ongoing pandemic and the owners haven’t set a timeline for a reopening. But recently they shared an internal memo with their employees, announcing plans of a spring cleaning aimed at refreshing the casino’s gaming floor.

Casino Rama’s operator, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, didn’t mention when the refurbishments are expected to be concluded. Instead, they opted for a more diplomatic response saying that the new floorplan will be in line with expected market demand once the casino reopens.

Thousands of workers have been laid off or furloughed in the Canadian casino industry in the wake of the coronavirus and hundreds of millions in revenue have been lost. Recovery could take decades for those with enough capital to afford keeping their doors closed.

Union workers are slightly better off and still enjoy some benefits but these are expected to diminish in the coming months.

The president of Unifor Local 1090, Corey Dalton, said that the upgrades at Casino Rama will see the removal of close to 400 slot machines and 20 table games, but there will not be any changes to staffing levels at the facility.

“There were 1,050 Unifor members before the pandemic,” Dalton said. “The reconfiguration of the floor (and the removal of the slots and tables) is not expected to have an impact on staffing levels.”

Gateway working closely with the union

Rob Mitchell, director of communications and public affairs for Gateway, said the company has been working in tandem with the union leadership and kept them involved in the refurbishment process.

“The work is being done by Gateway’s corporate slot team, who are responsible for all gaming floor projects at all Gateway sites in Ontario. The union has been notified of the renovations and are fully aware of the project and have been actively involved in the recall of staff who are working on the refreshments,” Mitchell said.

Even though hundreds of slots will depart from the casino floor and close to two dozen tables will be removed, Gateway is of the opinion that reconfiguring the venue will improve customer experience and better align with the increased competition in the province.

“The new layout will provide customers better access to their favourite games and allow guests to more easily navigate the gaming floor. The present refresh was in the panning stages even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, as business volumes did not warrant the number of machines we had in operation at the Rama location.”

Heavy toll on the workforce

A few Gateway venues have been able to reopen albeit to strict health and safety protocol restrictions, including mask-wearing, social distancing, and a max occupancy limit of 50 persons. The union is currently working hard on negotiating a reopening date for the Casino Rama to ensure that staff retain their jobs and return to earning a living.

“Nearly every casino worker in Canada has been off work for more than 11 months,” Dalton said. “The hospitality and gaming sector has been crippled by the effects of COVID-19. The financial impacts of being off work for nearly a year will take an incredible toll on any worker.”

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