COVID-19 casino closure costing B.C. cities, community groups millions in gaming grants

Municipalities and community groups around B.C. are bracing for a financial hit, as casinos around the province remain shuttered due to COVID-19.

The province ordered casinos, community gaming centres and bingo halls closed on March 15, due to concerns they could become a transmission point for the coronavirus.

And it could be some time before the facilities reopen, even as the province begins to strategize how it could partially reopen next month.

“We know that many of the people who frequent in that environment are older people or people with underlying illnesses, perhaps people who might be more or are more vulnerable to having severe illness from COVID-19.”

While that closure is affecting casinos’ bottom lines, it’s also cutting into the millions of dollars of gaming grants that the province disburses to cities and groups like minor hockey associations and the Boys and Girls Club.

In financial year 2018-2019, B.C. doled out more than $131 million in grants to community groups, and more than $98 million to local governments.

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More than $16 million of that went to Richmond, home of the River Rock casino, while Burnaby, which hosts the Grand Villa Casino, cashed in for more than $12 million.

Grassroots community organizations will also feel the pinch.

Carolyn Tucker with the Boys and Girls clubs of South Coast B.C. says many such groups may not even realize what’s coming.

“There will for sure be organizations that will only be realizing, maybe when they see this story, ‘Ugh, right, what are we going to do without that money?” she said.

“Hundreds of thousands of kids, thousands in our organization alone, are benefiting from community gaming grants each and every year.”

The BC Lottery Corporation says it is ready to implement regulations around physical distancing and sanitation at the province’s casinos when they’re cleared to reopen.

The Crown corporation says it is also still bringing in some revenue through its lottery games and online gambling.

But it seems unlikely that gamblers will be back at the table any time soon, at least according to Henry.

“I would have to be convinced that there’s a valid reason and and a safe way to do it, I think that’s something that is for further down the line,” she said.

“It’s certainly not in the first phase of what I’m considering or what we’re considering in terms of of how do we get things moving again in our economy and in our social structures and such.”

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