Manitoba betting on electronic table games once government-run casinos reopen

A new way of playing blackjack, roulette and other table games is in the cards at Manitoba’s government-run casinos.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries is betting on its new “stadium gaming” experience, once pandemic restrictions ease. A dealer will lead the game from a distance, while players sit at their own interactive video display, properly distanced from others.

The new gambling approach, which is already operating in many other provinces, will become a permanent fixture at Winnipeg casinos. They’ve been shut down since October, owing to the pandemic.

“This pivot in operations will allow us to call back table game employees when the casinos reopen,” a Liquor and Lotteries spokesperson said by email.

This change will shrink the number of casino employees at Club Regent Casino, McPhillips Station Casino and Shark Club Gaming Centre in Winnipeg. 

Liquor and Lotteries wouldn’t confirm the number of affected employees, but Unifor, the union representing casino floor employees, said 150 people were offered a voluntary severance package earlier this year and 124 members accepted the buyout. The other employees have been reassigned into other positions based on seniority and, to the knowledge of Unifor national representative Len Olafson, two people were laid off.

Casino floor staff take voluntary buyouts

Liquor and Lotteries made buyout packages “over and above” what the collective agreement permitted, Olafson said. The severance packages were mostly offered to table dealers, he added.

“If people had the option, they did not have to take it. 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.”

He adds Liquor and Lotteries intended to shift to more electronic gaming before the pandemic hit. It’s unfortunate, he said, that jobs are being lost.

“It’s technological and as times change, unfortunately, machines do a lot of the things that people do,” he said.

Stadium gaming has been embraced by casinos across North America over the last three to four years, said Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, a national trade association.

“It’s a player experience that’s vastly different,” he said. “It does break down some of the intimidation of the table games.”

Since it occupies more of the casino floor, it tends to bring people into the social atmosphere in a way that a table game, where players sit shoulder-to-shoulder, does not, Burns said.

“The table dealer acts as a bit a host, and sometimes I’ve seen it done where they’re mic’d and they can talk to everybody.”

He believes the pandemic has sped up the implementation of stadium games because live table versions are ill-advised while close, prolonged contact is discouraged.

“You’ve seen it in some of the regional markets in the United States for these, 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.” 

Fewer table games, but still around

Liquor and Lotteries will maintain some table games on casino floors, but a spokesperson said they are unlikely to operates for the foreseeable future due to the current complexities of offering these games safely. Table games were shut down when casinos partially reopened last July for three months.

Burns believes there’s a place for live table games, as well as their electronic brethren.

“it’s providing more variety, more options and choice in the environment,” he said.

Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said he supports the arrival of stadium gaming, which he described in a statement as a “logical shift in the global gaming industry” that’s more efficient and adheres to public health guidance during the pandemic.

The province hasn’t teased a reopening date for casinos. In fact, health officials have said they will likely tighten restrictions as the pandemic’s third wave hits. 

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