While some casinos in Ontario are reopening this morning, the doors remain locked at Casino Rama.
However, the operator of the gambling facility east of Orillia received some good news recently.
On Friday, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment became the first Canadian employer to receive a loan from the Canada Enterprise Emergency Funding Corp. (CEEFC) under its Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF).
The agreement provides Gateway with access to $200 million of liquidity.
Casino Rama is a large casino, hotel and entertainment complex located in the town of Rama, Ontario on the reserve land of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation. It is jointly owned by the Chippewas of Rama First Nation and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, with operation of the casino contracted to Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited. Casino Rama Seating Chart Details. Casino Rama is located in Rama, Canada and is a great place to catch live entertainment. SeatGeek provides everything you need to know about your seating options, including sections, row and even obstructed views.
“These funds will provide us with capital to support restarting our operations and returning people back to work when it is safe and viable to do so,” Gateway CEO Tony Santo said in an email to employees.
He noted the pandemic “hit our employees and their families and communities hard” and said the company is “appreciative of the LEEFF program.”
He said the loan is a shot of good news amid months of dire news.
“Back in the spring, we believed that this shutdown would be for a few weeks,” said Santo of the government shutdown of casinos on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“However, we have now seen that the closure has lasted far longer and there is continued uncertainty about how long the shutdowns will stretch.”
That uncertainty has been taxing for employees, says Corey Dalton, president of Unifor Local 1090, which represents employees at Casino Rama and Gateway Casino in Innisfil.
“After being off of work for more than six months, all of our casino members are struggling financially at this point,” Dalton told OrilliaMatters.
Unifor Local 1090 and Gateway recently negotiated an agreement that extended health benefits for unionized employees until the end of September, he said.
The new LEEFF funding prompted Gateway to extend benefits for all members until Oct. 31, at which point they will review benefits again.
“We are extremely grateful and applaud Gateway for this decision,” said Dalton.
Another key component of the agreement included the opportunity for members to enrol in a 'paid inactive leave' program that would provide members with ongoing financial support through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program.
“The paid inactive leave program has been very beneficial for a large amount of our members,” said Dalton. “Unfortunately, this program was scheduled to expire on Sept. 26. Late last week, the federal government indicated that they would be extending CEWS into 2021. We now anxiously await important details from the federal government on the extension and any limitations the program may have.”
Dalton said employees are eager to get back to work. An August poll of members concluded 70% of unionized Casino Rama employees were 'comfortable to return to work if safety precautions are implemented.'
Dalton said provincial regulations handcuff casino operations.
“The Ontario government has placed extensive restrictions on casinos,” he said, noting table games are currently prohibited from reopening and all casinos are limited to a maximum of 50 guests.
“Both the Union and the employer have asked the Ontario government to review this cap,” said Dalton.
“Local 1090 maintains a strong belief that the guest-limit needs to be proportionate to the physical size of each casino. Casino Rama has one of the largest gaming floors in Ontario in terms of square footage - there is an ability for Gateway to provide safe, physical distancing for a larger number of patrons than other facilities which can be 20% (or even less) of the square footage,” Dalton explained.
Santo agreed, saying the “50-customer capacity limit ... makes reopening very challenging.”
Santo said they “have developed extensive health and safety plans corporately and for each of our sites. These plans include two metres physical distancing, the installation of Plexiglas for areas of frequent employee/guest interactions, rigorous cleaning measures and the mandatory use of masks or face coverings for all individuals entering the gaming sites.
“Our health and safety standards have been reviewed by external subject matter experts and they have been proven to be successful through the re-opening of select food and beverage outlets across the company,” he said.
“Despite our detailed plans that well exceed the protocols and oversight in every other area of the economy, there is no sound science to support why we are not allowed to open while big-box stores, restaurants and gyms are allowed to re-open,” Santo explained.
“We operate in a highly regulated sector and are already accustomed to following government-mandated parameters,' noted Santo. 'We have complete confidence that our operations and our employees can safely and successfully operate under these added health and safety protocols.”
He said Gateway is “continuing to appeal to the appropriate government agencies in all provinces to allow us to re-open our operations in a safe and viable way.”
At 10 a.m. this morning, the 11 properties operated by Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC) re-opened. At each of these sites, guests are required to reserve a two-hour gaming time-slot.
Caesars Windsor will be re-opening on Oct. 8 by invitation only. All other Ontario casinos remain closed.
Casino Rama is making plans to reopen.
But it will be open by invitation only, there will be no table games available and no food or beverage service.
Rama First Nation Chief Ted Williams made the announcement today.
“We have been working with Gateway Casino officials and Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) for several months to explore options for the safe opening of Casino Rama,” said Williams.
Casino Rama and all provincial casinos were closed by the OLG in mid-March. While most other casinos have already re-opened, the massive gaming facility east of Orillia remained closed. Officials had said that, due to the size of the casino, it didn't make sense to re-open when only 50 people could be inside the building.
Today, Williams announced all parties “agreed on opening ... after consultation with the Rama COVID-19 Task Force, based on their overall satisfaction with safety plans.”
Williams and members of the First Nations council recently visited Georgian Downs, which is also operated by Gateway. That facility has been open, on a limited basis with extensive COVID protocols, for several weeks.
“We went to see the effect of the business with the proper protocols in place,” said Williams.
He said the Innisfil facility is adhering to public health guidelines by limiting the number of patrons to 50, mandating masks for patrons and staff at all times, signage that promotes safe practices and hand sanitizing stations.
He also noted “staff (are) ready to enforce protocols as is needed.”
Williams stressed there have been no COVID cases related to the casino in Innisfil.
“This week, (chief and council) toured Casino Rama with the COVID Task Force to talk about what we needed to see in our community,” said Williams.
During a video address to the community, Williams read some of the comments from unnamed task force members.
“I would be satisfied and comfortable with suggesting that reopening would be best for the community and the employees working for Casino Rama,” one member said.
Another said: “We were also glad to know there will be no food and beverage services as this eliminates additional risk.”
Another said “the system implemented for contact tracing with registration, facial recognition and video surveillance is better than some others in place.”
Williams said “it will take seven to 10 days to restore operations.” He said “our first priority is our community safety.”
Robert Mitchell, a spokesperson for Gateway, said there are still 'a number of steps' Gateway must go through before a re-opening date can be determined.
'When those details are established, including a confirmed opening date, a formal re-opening announcement will be issued by Gateway,' said Mitchell.
He thanked Rama First Nation for the 'ongoing dialogue,' saying they 'appreciate their care and dedication in reviewing our Health and Safety Plan' meant to ensure the safety of the community, employees and guests.
'We are happy that they have reviewed Gateway's health and safety protocols for re-opening under the current government criteria and given their endorsement for Gateway to re-open Rama under those restrictions, which include a customer capacity of 50 patrons, no live table games and the mandatory use of face masks,' said Mitchell.
Unifor Local 1090 president Corey Dalton did not respond to a request for a comment in time for this story.
Casino Rama Opening Date
However, Orillia’s Tshweu Moleme, a Unifor representative at the casino, said he’s “encouraged” by the news.
Casino Rama Entertainment
“Of course, one can only be cautiously optimistic at this time, given the rising numbers with COVID-19 and the province’s tightening of some restrictions, but I do commend the work that Rama Chief and Council are doing, working with the company, and the union, to make sure that workers can return to work and the business can restart safely,” said Moleme.
“This is an important business and employer in our economic region and when it is down, the community feels it,” he said.
Casino Rama Events
“As noted in an OrilliaMatters article, yesterday, even area charities are struggling without the Casino and its good-hearted employees.”
It’s not clear how many employees might return to work under the new protocols.
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This story will be updated when more information becomes available