Bear Claw Casino, along with all other casinos across the province, remains closed.
White Bear First Nation Chief Nathan Pasap has written to the provincial government with the hope of setting up a meeting to discuss the return plan for casinos.
Pasap said restaurants and bars are open with access to VLTs, so he doesn’t see why casinos can’t do the same.
“There are a lot of employees that are affected by this….anywhere from 1,500 to 1,600 employees for all of Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority,” Pasap explains. “So that’s a lot of households that are affected.”
“There are 60 employees laid off from Bear Claw Casino alone and we have to get people back working and it has to happen sooner than later,” says Pasap.
“Some of the benefits are starting to run out for the employees of the casino,” says Pasap. “Over the last fiscal year they came back to work committedly and then obviously we had the second wave and they were furloughed again. We need to see them getting back to work. Maybe not all of them at once but slowly phase it in.”
Where casino employees were eligible, they took advantage of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and employment insurance benefits just like anyone else who was out of work due to COVID-19.
“When you’re on a reduced wage it’s just hard to make a go of it. EI benefits are only a portion of what your wage was but the expenses are still the same amount. So there’s a lot of pressure there,” explains Pasap.
“It’s not only that but it’s the mental health side of things,” says Pasap. “There’s that aspect of it as well. It takes a toll on home life and if you have a family having to home school as well that’s also a challenge.”
Bear Claw Casino was open very briefly up until Dec. 19. They had a very limited capacity in regards to operations. Nothing is open at the moment at Bear Claw, including the casino, restaurant and the hotel.
Pasap says they would take great measures as a corporation to build barriers for social distancing, space the machines safely and build barriers between machines. To enter the casino you must get your players card and that will track when you come in and when you leave. You will have a temperature check as well. They also supply masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
Pasap goes on to explain: “Being a SIGA board member, I’ve raised the concern with fellow board members in stating that I understand the safety capacity but when I can go to any bar, restaurant or lounge and they have VLT’s in there and you can sit and gamble at those machines … these machines are very similar to those in the casino.
“There’s a little bit of unfairness happening there in regards to gaming within our region.
“I’ve requested meetings with various government officials in regards to having a discussion about getting our gaming operations going, maybe not in full swing but just incremental phases as we go forward to reopening gaming in Saskatchewan.
“From their side there has been zero communication, zero consultation,” he said.
“Under the current Public Health Order, which is in effect until April 19, casinos will remain closed. As the vaccine rollout progresses, and the number of cases continue to trend in a positive direction, we are optimistic more activities will re-open,” the Government of Saskatchewan said in a statement.
The statement was made on March 22.