Is Canada Heading Towards Cashless Gambling?

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While the recent COVID-19 related restrictions seem to be, at last, easing the question remains whether the virus will alter the entrenched behavioural patterns of Canadian gamblers.

Canadian gamblers are waiting with bated breath for the go-ahead that will, once again, enable them to do their regular rounds at their favourite land-based casinos.  The big unknown is how different will the gambling scene look like compared to the pre-coronavirus period.

Judging by the updated regulations that are trickling in, spaced out slot machines, plentiful sanitiser stations and croupiers shielded by plexiglass barriers, are set to become the new norm.

The Rationale for Cashless Gambling

Considering all the lingering epidemic risks, minimising contact with cash does make sense.  Canadian Gaming Association has already undertaken pilot studies to evaluate the feasibility of using digital payment methods, such as Apple Pay, and the results look promising.

Since the first casinos opened their doors over 400 years ago, cash has been the king for all wagering transactions.  And, even with the advent of bank card transactions, cold hard cash remains the preferred method for casinos to transact in. 

However, with the onset of the pandemic, hand-to-hand exchange of banknotes, passing of dices and touching of slot machine screens, all contributed to a nightmare scenario for casino operators.  Though a period of casino closures did help slow down the spread of the disease, casinos can’t stay closed forever as the economic impact of the shutdown is starting to be felt.

Slow Reopening of Canada’s Land-based Casinos

In Canada, Alberta has become the first province to greenlight its land-based casinos to reopen, which they did on 12 June.  At the moment, Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba are making headways with their reopening plans, at the same time trying to figure out best possible strategies to keep both the casino staff and patrons safe from the virus.

Judging by the current reopening blueprint, there is a good chance that the remaining casinos will reopen by the beginning of August.  Even so, all casinos will be running at 50 per cent of their pre-crisis level capacities, to accommodate social distancing and adhere to related protocols.  This includes turning off every other slot machine, a maximum number of people allowed at tables and buffed up cleaning procedures.

Alberta a Dry Run for the Rest of the Country

Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) has been overseeing the steady reopening of casinos in the province.  One of its key directives has been a compulsory two-metre space between individual slot machines.  This space can be reduced to one metre when a visible physical barrier separates the machines. 

For those gamblers waiting to play, marked floor pointers need to indicate where they should wait before occupying a new machine.  Nonetheless, some table games like blackjack that have a naturally cramped social distancing gameplay remain banned.

Obligatory sanitisation stations also need to be visible and spread out across the floor, while casinos have doubled or even tripled their complement of cleaning staff.  All staff members need to wear masks and preferably face shields, and all patrons who do not have a mask, need to be supplied with one by the casino.  Should a gambler refuse to wear or remove their mask while playing at a table, they need to be escorted off the premises.

Is Cashless Gambling the New Norm?

As mentioned, the Canadian Gambling Association has released a draft proposal on cashless payment options at local casinos that is currently being reviewed by key industry players.  The association is planning to review all the feedback by the end of July and then work on a book of standards that each province can incorporate into their existing operational frameworks.  

While it’s a known fact that reducing the handling of money can slow down the spread of the disease, it’s not the magic solution to the problem. The virus primarily transmits through close person-to-person contact and limiting the number of patrons at a casino remains the most effective way of limiting the spread.  In tandem with cashless payments, this can significantly reduce the number of onsite infections at Canadian casinos.

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