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COVID-19 Saskatchewan casinos, bingo halls reopen for Step Two

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan casinos, bingo halls reopen for Step Two' Saskatchewan casinos, bingo halls reopen for Step Two
WATCH: Up to 150 people are now allowed in bingo halls and casinos. The Saskatchewan government loosened some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday – Jun 20, 2021

Correction: Global News first reported Gordy Ouellette, the general manager of City Centre Bingo in Saskatoon had fired all of his staff. However, his staff were not fired, but laid off.

Dozens of people lined up outside Casino Regina on Sunday morning.

Bradford Jones was one. He said he was hoping for a taste of regular life and that he was looking to “get back out into the world (and) feel a little normal again.”

As of Sunday, June 20, Saskatchewan residents can again visit casinos and bingo halls now that the province moved to the second phase of the reopening plan and loosening COVID-19 public health restrictions.

The government is allowing a maximum of 150 people in the venues, as well as in recreational facilities and libraries.

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Casino Regina staff told Global News they reached capacity 45 minutes after they opened.

Saskatchewan Gaming Commission spokesperson Shanna Schulhauser said it’s a welcome sign because the COVID-19 closure cost them.

“We’ve been looking forward to it for weeks,” she told Global News.

Read more: USask professor says public, government must consider positives of extending some COVID-19 measures

“Once we were confirmed that we were able to reopen in (Step) Two, we immediately went into reopen mode and started dusting off our plans,” she said, standing in the Casino Regina lobby shortly before doors opened at 9 a.m.

She told Global News the casino had been closed for about six months recently and 10 months in total.

She estimated the cost of the closure at “about $100 million in lost revenue.”

Read more: COVID-19: Saskatchewan launches Step 2 reopen plan

She said the reopening meant they could start taking in money again and that the casino can start recalling more employees.

She said the casino temporarily laid off 570 full-time employees in December. It recalled 243 for June 20 and Schulhauser said the remaining 327 will return when the third phase of the reopening plan begins.

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Read more: Saskatchewan’s top doctor describes behaviour, actions in a post-pandemic world

Staff have health measures in place, like limiting the games, requiring patrons to maintain sufficient social distance and screening customers for COVID symptoms.

Schulhauser said staff are keeping health and safety in mind and, overall, are excited to return.

The general manager of Saskatoon’s City Centre Bingo said the same thing.

Gordy Ouellette told Global News he laid off the entire staff, of about 40 people, late last November when government regulations forced the doors shut.

He said the bingo hall suffered “severe financial losses.”

“It’s going to be a couple years battling back from it,” he said, adding that forecast assumes the bingo hall can have a full complement of customers.

Ouellette said the bingo hall can’t pay its bills with less than 150 customers.

Both he and Schulhauser said they’re looking forward to the lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions in Phase Three, which is scheduled for July 11.

Saskatchewan’s reopening strategy was put in place before the COVID-19 Delta variant started surging across the country.

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Schulhauser said casino staff were focused on the reopening though concerns about another wave of the pandemic were always at the back of her mind.

Ouellette said he’s hoping the case counts stay low.

For now, one player says she’s enjoying the sense of community.

“It’s just fun to get together and see friends,” Candace Nicklin said, telling Global News she’s played bingo with her parents and sisters since she was a child.

She said she was looking forward to returning to the hall as soon as the government announced the reopening.

And it paid off. She already won $500 before the interview.

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