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Before COVID, Casino Rama in Orillia was a popular destination for gamblers and concert-goers in the North Bay area.

With construction on our local Cascades Casino on hold, there is some progress to report on Casino Rama...it has plans to reopen.

But it will be open by invitation only, there will be no table games available and no food or beverage service.

Rama First Nation Chief Ted Williams made the announcement yesterday.

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“We have been working with Gateway Casino officials and Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) for several months to explore options for the safe opening of Casino Rama,” said Williams.

Casino Rama and all provincial casinos were closed by the OLG in mid-March. While most other casinos have already re-opened, the massive gaming facility east of Orillia remained closed. Officials had said that, due to the size of the casino, it didn't make sense to re-open when only 50 people could be inside the building.

Yesterday, Williams announced all parties “agreed on opening ... after consultation with the Rama COVID-19 Task Force, based on their overall satisfaction with safety plans.”

Williams and members of the First Nations council recently visited Georgian Downs near Barrie, which is also operated by Gateway. That facility has been open, on a limited basis with extensive COVID protocols, for several weeks.

“We went to see the effect of the business with the proper protocols in place,” said Williams.

He said the Innisfil facility is adhering to public health guidelines by limiting the number of patrons to 50, mandating masks for patrons and staff at all times, signage that promotes safe practices, and hand sanitizing stations.

He also noted, “staff (are) ready to enforce protocols as is needed.”

Williams stressed there have been no COVID cases related to the casino in Innisfil.

“This week, (chief and council) toured Casino Rama with the COVID Task Force to talk about what we needed to see in our community,” said Williams.

During a video address to the community, Williams read some of the comments from unnamed task force members.

“I would be satisfied and comfortable with suggesting that reopening would be best for the community and the employees working for Casino Rama,” one member said.

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Another said: “We were also glad to know there will be no food and beverage services as this eliminates additional risk.”

Another said, “The system implemented for contact tracing with registration, facial recognition and video surveillance is better than some others in place.”

Williams said, “It will take seven to 10 days to restore operations.” He said, “Our first priority is our community safety.”

Rama

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Robert Mitchell, a spokesperson for Gateway, said there are still 'a number of steps' Gateway must go through before a re-opening date can be determined.

'When those details are established, including a confirmed opening date, a formal re-opening announcement will be issued by Gateway,' said Mitchell.

He thanked Rama First Nation for the 'ongoing dialogue,' saying they 'appreciate their care and dedication in reviewing our Health and Safety Plan' meant to ensure the safety of the community, employees, and guests.

'We are happy that they have reviewed Gateway's health and safety protocols for re-opening under the current government criteria and given their endorsement for Gateway to re-open Rama under those restrictions, which include a customer capacity of 50 patrons, no live table games and the mandatory use of face masks,' said Mitchell.

Unifor Local 1090 president Corey Dalton did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story.

However, Orillia’s Tshweu Moleme, a Unifor representative at the casino, said he’s “encouraged” by the news.

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“Of course, one can only be cautiously optimistic at this time, given the rising numbers with COVID-19 and the province’s tightening of some restrictions, but I do commend the work that Rama Chief and Council are doing, working with the company, and the union, to make sure that workers can return to work and the business can restart safely,” said Moleme.

“This is an important business and employer in our economic region and when it is down, the community feels it,” he said.

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“As noted in an OrilliaMatters article, Tuesday, even area charities are struggling without the Casino and its good-hearted employees.”

It’s not clear how many employees might return to work under the new protocols.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available

Must be 12 years of age or older to enter the Entertainment Centre and nineteen (19) years of age or older with valid government issued photo identification to gain entry to the gaming floor; those twenty-one (21) years of age or younger must also have a secondary piece of name identification. Those who have been trespassed and/or self-excluded from Casino Rama Resort or any Ontario gaming property and/or fail to meet Casino Rama Resort’s conditions of entry may not visit, participate in promotions and/or redeem offers. Offers do not apply to employees of Casino Rama Resort or Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Ltd. Casino Rama Resort reserves the right to cancel or change any program without notice. For full conditions for Casino Rama Resort entry, click here.

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