Casinos; houses of seduction and beacons of opportunity are by definition, where dreams come true—dreams that far too often morph into nightmares. From dream to dream and nightmare to nightmare, the caskets of casinos grow and so does the economy they feed. Despite being seemingly independent, these otherworldly castles reach far beyond their four walls.
The conversation with Paul Burns, President & CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, reveals how the pandemic affected the sector and how this sector impacts and helps to revitalize the Canadian economy.
Milénio Stadium: This past year has been particularly tough for a lot of people and businesses, including casinos, by being obligated to keep its doors closed. What are the consequences of this atypical year? How is the sector doing right now?
Paul Burns: Currently in Canada, all gaming facilities are closed. Over the past 14 months, many facilities never reopened or the ones that have, operated with reduced capacity restrictions, strict social distancing, and enhanced cleaning protocols. In the year prior to the pandemic the casino sector in Canada generated approximately $9 billion in revenue and in the past year that revenue fell to $900 million.
Employing close to 90,000 people when fully operational, the past 14 months have been extremely difficult on employees and their families due to lost wages. Gaming employees in Canada earns an average annual income of $65,000, and this loss of income also has an impact on the broader communities where casinos are located.
Casinos are highly regulated facilities with strict operational controls. This enabled them to quickly and effectively develop detailed and robust health and safety procedures to provide clean and safe gaming environments. We look forward to reopening with those same controls once public health officials give the industry permission. Ensuring casinos are safe and clean for our customers is our priority.
MS: Under normal circumstances, Casinos not only help the economy, but also play an important role in the entertainment industry. However, these are places of attraction for those who are seduced by easy money. How does a Casino manage the excess and spiral your regular customers can get themselves into?
PB: The gaming industry is the largest sector of the hospitality and entertainment industry in Canada, generating almost $17 billion in 2019. The industry supports over 180,000 jobs in Canada and casinos purchase over $14.5 billion in goods and services annually, much of that from communities in which they operate. The gaming industry also provides close to $9 billion in revenue to provincial and municipal governments and First Nations annually.
Canada is a leader in responsible gambling thanks to the strong regulatory framework used by our provinces and territories for legalized land-based and online gambling that puts consumer safety and clear accountabilities front and centre. Canada’s approach to and investment in preventing gambling harms as a public health issue has led to the creation of a safe, sustainable gambling industry.
Casino operators train their staff in best practices in responsible gaming, and actively promote healthy and safe play to their customers.
MS: The game, although not an addition for many, is a routine a lot of people like to keep. Online casinos have turned out to be the alternative over the course of this year. In the future, to what extent will the traditional game suffer with this closer contact with the world of virtual gaming?
PB: Online gaming is and will continue to be part of the product mix for gamblers in Canada.
Canadian casino operators are looking forward to welcoming their customers back when it is safe to do so. Customers are anxious to return to enjoy entertainment, a nice meal, play their favourite game, or have a night out with friends. Online or virtual gaming is a complimentary activity to casino gaming or visiting a racetrack.
MS: With this online version of Casinos, would it be expected an increase of problems related to serious gambling dependence? Since it becomes more difficult to control any extremes…
PB: Canada is a leader in responsible gambling thanks to the strong regulatory framework used by our provinces and territories for legalized land-based and online gambling that puts consumer safety and clear accountabilities front and centre. There are many responsible gaming tools available to Canadians who play online: the ability to limit the amount of time you play, the amount of money you spend, or deposit in your player account, as well as the ability to self-exclude, to name a few.
MS: Which entity controls Casino’s revenues in Canada? And who benefits from the distribution of profits?
MS: How is the Casino’s reopening being prepared? How are you going to deal with the so-called “new normal”?
PB: Across Canada, the gaming industry is working with provincial governments, regulators and public health officials and all operators/facilities have developed individual site-specific plans to outline the steps that have been taken to make the properties safe.
Canada’s gaming industry is uniquely qualified to implement enhanced health and safety measures as we are the most highly regulated industry in the hospitality sector. We follow rigorous standards for health and safety and have a strong culture of compliance, as required by provincial regulatory frameworks. We have also worked cooperatively with municipalities, including local public health officials and unions and employee groups, to keep them informed of our plans. Reopening Canada’s gaming industry will vary across the country and will be dependent on the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates in each province.