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Union urges B.C. to reopen casinos amid COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video 'Thousands of laid off casino workers call for reopening' Thousands of laid off casino workers call for reopening
BC Casinos are pushing the province to take a gamble and allow them to reopen. Sarah MacDonald reports.

As health officials urge British Columbians to scale back on socializing, casinos are pushing the province to roll the dice and allow them to reopen.

Casinos have reopened in other provinces amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said in the past that gambling halls would not open until there was either a wide distribution of a vaccine, community immunity or broad successful treatments.

Click to play video 'Determining how to safely reopen B.C. casinos' Determining how to safely reopen B.C. casinos
Determining how to safely reopen B.C. casinos

Unifor, the union representing thousands of casino workers across B.C. and Canada, disputes the science behind the decision to shutter casinos while other businesses have been allowed to reopen.

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“Restaurants are open, bars are open,” Unifor western regional director Gavin McGarrigle said. “There are plans that have been floated out there, we want to sit down with health officials.”

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Keeping casinos closed puts laid-off workers at risk of losing benefits, said Unifor.

Read more: B.C. casinos want to open before province moves to Phase 4 of COVID-19 plan

“Let’s get some form of a plan to give some hope to these workers and in the meantime, what’s the plan to make sure they have this incredibly important benefits coverage?” McGarrigle said.

Read more: Timeline: How B.C. plans to reopen amid COVID-19

Casinos were originally part of the fourth and final phase of the province’s plan to reopen the economy. In June, the B.C. Lottery Corporation and casino operators said they were working to open casinos earlier than expected.

Click to play video 'Dr. Bonnie Henry on the reopening of B.C. casinos' Dr. Bonnie Henry on the reopening of B.C. casinos
Dr. Bonnie Henry on the reopening of B.C. casinos

Gaming industry proponents have pointed to the potential for effective physical distancing since games like slot machines are largely played solo.

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“As new tools become accepted during the pandemic we hope those are integrated in whatever plans there are,” British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union treasurer Paul Finch said. “We think it’s a matter of putting in place the right safety protocols in the right conditions.”

— With files from Richard Zussman and Jon Azpiri