Ontario Government Announces Casino, Sports Venue Reopening Plans

Ontario plans to ease some restrictions as early as Jan. 31
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The Ontario government announced its plans for casino reopenings and revised capacity limits for sports venues at a press conference Thursday.

Casinos will be permitted to reopen at 50% capacity on Jan. 31, while sports venues in the province will be allowed to raise capacity to 50% on Feb. 21. The government’s plan is to have all capacity limits removed for both casinos and sports venues by March 14.

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination and masks will still be required in order to enter casinos and sports venues in the province, and no end date was announced for those enhanced measures. It’s also unclear if fans will be able to enjoy food and beverages while attending games once the doors open to the public again.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford ordered the closure of all casinos in the province on Jan. 5, citing rising COVID cases across the province as the reason for the mandate. Ontario’s casinos have endured rolling closures and restrictions since March 2020 due to the pandemic and finally had restrictions lifted for the first time in over a year in late October, when infections dropped significantly in the region. As infections increased again, the Ontario government cut public capacity at casinos to 50% on Dec. 18 before ordering closures again in early January.

According to the Canadian Gaming Association, there are 114 casinos in Canada, along with 200 permanent bingo halls and community gaming centers, that employ roughly 183,000 people. Some of the more prominent casinos in Ontario include Casino Rama, Fallsview Casino Resort, Caesars Windsor, and Woodbine Casino.

Ontario sports teams still juggling schedules

Ontario’s COVID restrictions have wreaked havoc on the schedules of the province’s professional teams. The government limited capacity at large indoor venues at the lesser of 50% or 1,000 people starting Dec. 31. As a result, the NHL postponed many home games for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators until later dates, when more fans could potentially return to arenas.

The Senators have 15 home games before March 14, while the Leafs have 10. There’s also the Heritage Classic — an outdoor game in Hamilton, Ontario, featuring the Leafs and Buffalo Sabres — scheduled for March 13, one day before the government plans to lift all restrictions. It’s unclear if restrictions will be lifted early for that marquee NHL event, or if an exemption will be granted.

Other professional and amateur sports organizations in the country have also been affected by the latest round of restrictions, including the Toronto Raptors. The NBA team has seven more home games on its schedule that will be played without fans.

Ontario reported 4,061 COVID hospitalizations on Thursday, with 594 patients in intensive care units. Ontario’s Health Minister, Christine Elliott, said earlier this week that there are now “glimmers of hope” after examining the latest COVID-19 figures in the country, where case counts are expected to peak in the coming weeks.

Photo by Shutterstock

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