While B.C.’s casinos have been shuttered for the better part of 10 months, thousands of slot machines across the province have remained powered up.
Casinos were closed by provincial health order on March 16, but due to rules from the B.C. Lottery Corporation, they have been barred from turning the devices off.
That’s despite a massive power draw on electricity and air conditioning to keep them running, leaving some facilities with bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.
The BCLC declined an on-camera interview, but issued a statement explaining the edict.
The machines must be left on, it said, to “support the long term functionality and integrity of the devices and systems and required system upgrades.”
Sources in the casino sector say a large-scale shutdown could, in fact, create hardware and software problems on the devices.
But the BC Gaming Industry Association also says it never expected the shutdown to last this long.
“We (believed) that the requirement to leave the equipment and systems powered on was based on a belief that the closure would not last for an extended period,” it said in a statement.
Environmentalist Tim Pearson with the Sierra Club of BC said it’s ironic the province is mandating the power usage at the same time Crown corporation BC Hydro runs a “Power Smart” campaign urging people to cut electricity usage.
“It’s the classic one hand is doing one thing, the other is doing another. You would hope that it would be more coordinated on that front,” he said.
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“I think it’s just unfortunate that those machines can’t be shut off and maybe it’s something the industry should be looking into. You know, these kinds of circumstances, they can shut them off so we can keep energy usage to a minimum.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has maintained that casinos, as indoor spaces with large crowds and high-touch surfaces, will be among the last businesses to reopen amid the pandemic.
Under the province’s reopening plan, casinos are not forecast to be back in business until widespread community immunity to COVID-19 is achieved, likely through the rollout of vaccines.