'We are as legitimate as any other business': Head of Edmonton-area casino says industry should never have been included in Step 3

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Casinos should have been included in earlier steps of Alberta’s COVID-19 reopening strategy after the industry spent millions on precautionary measures, says the head of an Edmonton area casino.

The province on Monday put a pause on Step 3 of its four-step reopening strategy following a rise in hospitalizations and active cases. Step 3 would have allowed casinos as well as movie theatres, art galleries, zoos and bingo halls to open for people to gather indoors.

Vik Mahajan, the CEO of the River Cree Resort and Casino, said he is disappointed with the decision as his casino has been closed since Dec. 12. He said he has spent $1 million to make the facility safe for customers and feels a little frustrated with casinos being placed in the second last phase.

“I don’t think casinos should have been put in Step 3 because of all the steps we’ve taken and the investments that we’ve made,” Mahajan said. “Sometimes just because we’re a casino, I just think we become the sacrificial lamb. We do a lot of good work, hire a lot of people and a lot of money goes to charity and revenue for the government. I’m not sure why some people don’t understand that. We are as legitimate as any other business.”


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The province is currently under Step 2 of the reopening strategy, which allows for retailers to operate at 25 per cent capacity, restaurants and pubs to resume inside dining for six people per table from the same household or two close contacts living alone, and limited activities at banquet halls, community halls and conference centres.

Mahajan said he’s not against the province’s restrictions or the decision to slow down but simply wishes casinos could be treated more fairly.

Pausing Step 3 also meant holding off on easing more public health measures for places of worship. Currently, faith services are limited to 15 per cent capacity for in-person attendance and require members to wear masks and physically distance if not from the same household.

Rabbi Steven Schwarzman, with the Edmonton Beth Shalom Synogogue, said he had no expectations as he planned to continue to offer services online.

“I’m glad they made the decision that they did because it’s the right decision,” he said. “It seems to me that we are watching a race (between) vaccines versus (variant strains). We need to give time for the vaccines to catch up. Once there are enough vaccinations, then the population will be a whole lot safer and then we can begin to open things up.”

Since the start of the pandemic last year, Schwarzman has been offering weekday services online through Zoom. He said on the Sabbath he offers live streams as the day is meant to be set aside for rest and worship.


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Ryan Pedde, the lead pastor with Bridge Church in Fort Saskatchewan, said he’s disappointed about the decision not to ease more restrictions but understood where the government was coming from.

“We love people and we’re eager to get people back together, physically in community,” he said. “Throughout the pandemic, it’s been important for us to be creative and recognize that faith is more than getting a bunch of people in a room together. We’ve been creative through online ministry but also drive-in services. This isn’t an issue of religious persecution. Faith is resilient in times of trouble.”

Last year, Pedde held a drive-in Easter service at the Dow Centennial Centre where 800 people attended. Another drive-in service will be held on April 4 starting at 11 a.m. Pedde said he hopes that this will be the last one so people can meet again in church.

Fort Saskatchewan is roughly 30 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.




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