Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is bringing “stadium gaming” to government-run casinos once pandemic restrictions lift.
The twist on table games like blackjack and roulette features a dealer who leads the game from a distance. Players use interactive video displays for gameplay, making it easy to maintain social distancing.
While Liquor and Lotteries had been planning the change before the pandemic hit, it’s possible lockdown and restrictions played a part in the timing of the shift. Casinos in Manitoba have been completely shuttered since last October. Even during a partial reopening last summer, table games remained closed.
While the change will allow operators to bring back table employees sooner, fewer furloughed staff will receive the call.
Table staff offered severance packages
Liquor and Lotteries have not released the number of affected employees. But, according to Unifor, the union representing affected employees, 150 received offers of voluntary severance. Most employees who refused the package were reassigned. Two have been laid off.
The buyout packages offered by Liquor and Lotteries were “over and above” requirements of the collective agreement.
“If people had the option, they did not have to take it,” said Len Olafson, Unifor’s national representative. “Many people opted not to for the simple reason that they’ve been there for so long. They have a pension there; they want to retire.”
It’s unfortunate, Olafson told CBC, that jobs have been lost.
“It’s technological, and as times change, unfortunately, machines do a lot of the things that people do.”
Stadium gaming to shift player experience
Embraced by casinos across North America over the last three to four years, stadium gaming offers players a unique experience.
“It’s a player experience that’s vastly different,” said Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association. “It does break down some of the intimidation of the table games.”
According to Burns, the way stadium gaming uses more of the casino floor tends to make the atmosphere more social.
He believes COVID-19 has sped up the arrival of stadium games as live table versions are ill-advised while social contact is discouraged.
“You’ve seen it in some of the regional markets in the United States. They’ve brought back more of their electronic table games, and other table games have come on later as capacity restrictions have been reduced,” he said.
“I think you’re going to see some of that same experience here in Canada as casinos begin to reopen when it’s safe.”
Burns also believes there’s space for both live and electronic gaming.
“It’s providing more variety, more options and choice in the environment,” he said.
Traditional table games fewer, but still an option (eventually)
Liquor and Lotteries intend to maintain table games at their casinos.
However, a spokesperson speaking with CBC said for the foreseeable future traditional table games will remain closed. Reopening only when it’s safe.
Manitoba’s Crown Services Minister, Jeff Wharton, said he too supports stadium gaming’s arrival. In a statement to CBC, Wharton called the change a “logical shift in the global gaming industry,” especially in light of the pandemic.
However, when casinos reopen in Manitoba is still up in the air. The province tightened restrictions again on Monday in an attempt to dry out COVID’s third wave.