Online gambling increases, but not enough to make up for casino closures
More than 10 months after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still no sign of an opening date for British Columbia casino operations.
The B.C. Ministry of Finance says casinos have submitted safety plans which have been reviewed by Worksafe BC and the provincial health office. Conversations on when and how casinos might reopen are ongoing, but no firm date for reopening has been set.
The ministry said they are also currently exploring options for improving support for casinos “alongside other priorities."
According to the most recent figures available in British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s 2019/2020 Annual Service Plan Report, in fiscal 2019/20, (March 31, 2019 to March, 31, 2020) the lottery corporation generated $1.347 billion in net income, $59 million below budget and $69 million less than the previous year.
Board Chair Peter Kappel said the most significant negative impact arose from the March 16, 2020 closure of casinos and bingo halls, but “while many players moved their play to our online channel, PlayNow.com, this migration was unable to make up for the revenue lost from brick-and-mortar channels.”
In the 15-day period that ended the corporation’s fiscal year between the March 16 closures due to COVID-19 and March 30, 2020, the lottery corporation lost $75 million, or an average of $5 million per day, in casino and community gaming operations.
However, over the past 11 months, the province’s online gambling portal, PlayNow.com has seen a 131 per cent increase in revenue.
Those eGaming operations generated $179 million in revenue for the fiscal year 2019-2020.
The Ministry of Finance said online gambling revenue flows from the B.C. Lottery Corporation to the province where it is distributed on a local level.
The money is used to provide key services, including health care and education, in addition to supporting economic development in local communities.
More information on income generated since COVID-19 restrictions came into effect will be available when the lottery corporation delivers its 2020/2021 annual report after March 31, 2021.
Municipalities and other local governments that host casinos or community gaming centres receive a 10 per cent share of net gaming income generated by those facilities. Host local governments received their share of net gaming income for the period between Jan. 1 and March 16, 2020, when gambling facilities were temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Ltd. public relations director Tanya Gabara said in an email late last week 8,000 employees — 90 per cent of all employees at the company’s 28 B.C. casinos and nearly 100 restaurants and other amenities, including hotels and entertainment centres located across Canada, have been off since March.
Some of the company’s gaming facilities in Ontario and Alberta were temporarily permitted to re-open, but all of their B.C. facilities have been closed for the entire period.
Gabara said Gateway’s corporate giving and community engagement program, known as GatewayGIVES, invested more than $1.3 million to local organizations across Canada through financial support, volunteering, in-kind goods & services and use of the company’s facilities.
Gateway has been working collaboratively with all levels of government, including local health officials, community leaders and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation to put together a health and safety plan that would allow reopening in a safe and responsible manner, but as yet there is no set timeline for re-opening of B.C. casinos.
“We are hopeful the public health officer will allow us to do so soon,” Gabara said.