Alberta bingo hall operators are preparing for influx of visitors at reopening

Alberta bingo hall operators are readying for a potential influx of visitors if they’re allowed to open in Alberta’s next phase of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edmonton’s Castledowns Bingo Hall manager Brenda Pope said Saturday even after the majority of Albertans are immunized, the hall will still need to enforce strict safety precautions, from temperature checks to sanitizing some high-touch surfaces every 20 minutes.

“We want to make sure we’re still being cautious. So the new normal is going to be much different than the old normal,” said Pope.

Casinos, racetracks and bingo halls were among those originally set to reopen at the beginning of March, but are now slated to reopen as part of Alberta’s Step 3, which could come by the end of March.

John Szumlas, head of Bingo Alberta, said they’re holding virtual training refreshers in the coming weeks to make sure staff and volunteers are up to speed on all COVID-19 protocol.

“There will be virus hesitancy even once the halls are open,” said Szumlas.

He added halls will need to combat that uncertainty by strictly adhering to provincial guidelines, something he hopes they will get an update on from provincial officials soon.

Vik Mahajan, chief executive officer at River Cree Resort and Casino, said Thursday the casino’s roughly 1,000 employees are eager to get back to work.

“We can open at a moment’s notice,” he said.

He estimated that between full closures and the restrictions in 2020, VLTs were closed for about 160 days and tables games were closed for more than 200 days.

At the same time, casinos around the province invested about $10 million towards safety measures during COVID-19, from sanitization to physical barriers.

“We need to find a way to work through these things as opposed to just closing things,” Mahajan said.

Beginning last year, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis launched an online gaming portal. And, eight bingo halls around the province introduced video bingo events for people to play from home.

Szumlas said it was a “wonderful reality” that virtual bingo events could continue. In February, some were able to pull in almost $400,000 to distribute to charities, he said.

Bingo Alberta won’t push the province to allow opening if the science suggests it’s not safe to do so, Szumlas said.

“But, equally importantly, we have a duty and obligation to the charities that are relying upon the revenue that is derived from the game of bingo.”