“I feel like the government has forgotten about us.”
That’s a quote from a casino worker in a recent video published by the British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) looking to get some 3,000 casino employees back to work. Currently, gaming facilities across the province are still shut down due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Titled “Don't Forget About Casino Workers,” the video features workers from New Westminster's Starlight casino. The video has been endorsed by the Burnaby-based Gateway Casinos - which also operates the Grand Villa in Burnaby - with a spokesperson for the casino company telling the NOW that their gaming facilities are ready to reopen and can operate safely and responsibly.
Manuella, a slot attendant and member of the occupational health and safety board at Starlight casino, speaks emotionally in the video about how the shutdown is still affecting her. She explained that as soon as the casino was shut down the union and Gateway made every effort to reopen with safety protocols.
“The malls are open, the schools are open, I’m not understanding why the casino industry is not open,” she said.
Jagmeet, another worker at Starlight, says he is also wondering the same thing.
“I talked to my coworkers, all of them, mostly they are struggling on EI,” Jagmeet said. “I am worried about my expenses. I don’t know what will happen next.”
Tanya Gabara, director of public relations for Gateway casinos, says B.C. remains the only jurisdiction in North America that has completely refused to permit casinos to reopen.
In an email to the NOW, Gabara says that data from the reopening of gaming facilities in other Canadian provinces have not shown casinos as a source of community spread.
“Gateway reopened multiple casinos (with capacity restrictions, barriers and physical distancing measures) in Ontario and Alberta in October/November 2020, and again in early February,” Gabara writes. “We have not seen any instances of the spread of COVID-19 within these facilities.”
Ministry of Health responds
In a recent statement, the Ministry of Health recognized the closure of gambling facilities has had significant impacts on communities and the thousands of British Columbians who work in the gambling industry. Even still, the ministry writes they are still focused on slowing the spread of COVID-19 and says there is no firm date for casinos to reopen due to current public health orders.
“As the PHO has indicated, factors such as enclosed spaces, poor ventilation and older populations visiting casinos are all factors into the careful consideration of casinos re-opening. It is too soon yet to say when this may be,” the ministry’s statement reads.
“BCLC and the casino industry have submitted their safety plans, which have been reviewed by WorksafeBC and the Provincial Health Office, so that casinos are ready to reopen as soon as the PHO indicates they are able to.”
The ministry also writes that while there is a light at the end of the tunnel we must not let our guard down.