Almost a year after Casino Rama was shut down due to the pandemic, there remains “no set timeline” for its reopening.
And according to an internal memo sent to employees this week, there are plans afoot to “refresh” the casino’s gaming floor.
“At Casino Rama we will be using the continued closure time to refresh our gaming floor,” notes a memo sent to employees by the casino’s operator, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment.
“The changes will include reconfigurations of the slot and table floors as well as refreshing slot product.
“The new floor design will also be better aligned with the volumes we were experiencing prior to closure,” notes the memo.
Corey Dalton, the president of Unifor Local 1090, says the “refresh” will see the removal of about 400 slot machines and 20 table games.
However, he said “there will not be an alteration to staffing levels” at the gambling facility east of Orillia.
“There were 1,050 Unifor members before the pandemic,” Dalton said. “The reconfiguration of the floor (and the removal of the slots and tables) is not expected to have any impact on staffing levels.”
He said “these machines and tables were considered to be excess before the pandemic; most were rarely used, if ever.
“The size of the workforce is already proportionate to Gateway's expected market demand at reopening. They have expressly advised Unifor Local 1090 reps that they have no plans for additional reductions to staff levels,” he said.
Rob Mitchell, director of communications and public affairs for Gateway, said the union leadership has been involved in the process.
“The work is being done by Gateway's corporate slots team, who are responsible for all gaming floor projects at all Gateway sites in Ontario. The union has been notified of the renovations and are fully aware of the project and have been actively involved in the recall of staff who are working on the refresh,” said Mitchell.
“While the gaming floor is in part being reconfigured to better align with the new landscape created by increased competition within the gaming industry across the province, we also believe the refresh will improve the customer experience.
“The new layout will provide customers better access to their favourite games and allow guests to more easily navigate the gaming floor. The present refresh was in the planning stages even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, as business volumes did not warrant the number of machines we had in operation at the Rama location," Mitchell explained.
“The new design of the gaming floor aligns with the layout and gaming variety we successfully employ at other Gateway Casinos in the province that has proven very popular with our patrons,” said Mitchell.
He echoed Dalton’s sentiments about the impact on employees. “There are no anticipated impacts to staffing as a result of the redesign,” said Mitchell.
Dalton said the lengthy closure has been tough on employees. (Casino Rama was ordered closed by the OLG on March 16, 2020).
“Nearly every casino worker in Canada has been off work for more than 11 months,” said Dalton. “The hospitality and gaming sector has been crippled by the effects of COVID-19.
“The financial impacts of being off work for nearly a year will take an incredible toll on any worker,” he said.
Union workers have also been out of work, noted Orillia’s Tshweu Moleme, a Unifor rep at Casino Rama.
“I can assure you that Rama union leadership has been working very hard, alongside our Local and Unifor’s national leadership, during this pandemic,” said Moleme.
“We are also out of work, like millions of Canadians, but we continue to put in hours of our own time into making sure that Rama workers will return to a safe workplace and that they will have jobs to return to.”
He noted businesses also have rights.
‘We expect that such rights won’t be abused and that our Rama members will be able to return to their jobs once time allows and it is safe to do so,” said Moleme. “Our membership can’t wait to return to work and deliver some of the best customer service in the country.”
Dalton noted the union has fought to maintain benefits for unionized employees and said full benefits will remain in place for unionized employees until the end of March. And partial benefits have been guaranteed until at least June 30.
As of April 1, a reduced benefit plan will be enacted; that will include full prescription drug coverage and life insurance.
However, workers will, temporarily, lose their dental, vision and paramedical coverage.
When members return to work, full benefits will be restored.
As for a potential reopening date, that remains unclear.
“Gateway has not shared any planned opening dates,” said Dalton, noting re-opening is subject to approval from multiple entities including Gateway, OLG, Rama First Nation, Public Health officials.
Mitchell said it’s not clear when Casino Rama might reopen to the public.
“No decision on re-opening has been made at this time as we continue to monitor COVID infection numbers in the region,” he said.
“We will only re-open with the approval of Rama First Nations working in conjunction with local public officials and the visitation limitations prescribed by the provincial government.”