On Friday, the majority of Ontario’s casinos reopened, representing another step forward in the province’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. There was also a new initiative launched by gaming officials to prevent money laundering schemes.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has established a task force to monitor cash transactions in casinos.

The move comes a year after Canadian financial authorities noted significant and nearly identical drop-offs in both casino disbursement and large cash transaction reports.

A July 2020 report from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) said that “The COVID-19 pandemic, and associated closures and physical distancing measures, has disrupted some money laundering methods—particularly those that rely on the placement of illicit cash into cash-intensive businesses.”

AGCO will collaborate with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) to monitor cash transactions at casinos.

Ian Messenger, OLG’s director of anti-money laundering said that “Money laundering has no place in Ontario’s gaming industry. As patrons return to the province’s casinos and gaming sites, we will be working closely with our colleagues at the AGCO and OPP to proactively identify suspected illicit cash and ensure that appropriate actions are taken using our capabilities and those of our task force partners.”

According to a report by Global News in April, the number of suspicious cash transactions at Ontario casinos has risen dramatically in recent years. After just 134 such investigations were reported in 2015, the following two years saw a total of more than 1,900. There were 2,266 cases in 2018, and officials expect a similar number in 2019.

According to the report, each case might involve multiple transactions from multiple casinos.

Gateway Casinos Join Great Canadian in Reopening First

As part of the province’s reopening plan, casinos were allowed to open for the first time on Friday.

11 of Great Canadian Gaming Corp.’s casinos have reopened, allowing thousands of workers to return to work. During Step 3, Ontario regulations allow casinos to reopen at 50% capacity.

Gateway Casinos and Entertainment’s 11 casinos reopened on Friday as well. The casinos in London, Woodstock, and Innisfil, which are all open 24 hours a day, reopened early Friday morning after the stroke of midnight. The remainder opened later in the morning.

Gateway CEO Tony Santo said in a release that “We are excited to finally re-open casinos and community gaming centers across the province, and welcome back our employees and valued customers into a very safe environment for gaming and dining.”

The only Gateway casino in Ontario that is still open is Casino Rama. The resort on Lake Simcoe, 70 miles north of Toronto, will reopen on July 29th, according to the company.

Caesars, Niagara Casinos Announce Reopening Dates

Casino Rama isn’t the only casino in Ontario that will reopen in the future. In fact, three major venues in the region’s southern reaches plan to reopen this week. For the first time since the pandemic began more than 16 months ago, all three will do so.

The largest Canadian casino resort, Caesars Windsor, confirmed earlier this week that it will reopen on July 23. Caesars said in the announcement that players will not need reservations, but they must register before entering.

In addition, Caesars Windsor will only have certain slot machines and limited dining options available. The casino, which is just across the border from Detroit, plans to reopen its table games on July 28th, pending to regulatory approval.

The Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara in Niagara Falls will also reopen on July 23. Next Wednesday and Thursday, each will hold invitation-only events.

Neither of the two Niagara casinos will have table games right away, similar to Caesars. Table games will be offered at Fallsview on July 30. It’s unclear when Casino Niagara’s table games and poker room will reopen.

Before Ontario officials moved up the Step 3 launch date earlier this month, gaming and tourism officials implored provincial leaders to provide some guidelines to help casinos plan their reopening strategies. Officials said that the reopening of the two Niagara casinos will bring back thousands of workers.

Not All Ontario Casinos Set to Open

Even when those venues open, there will be other Ontario casinos that will remain closed. The Rideau Carleton Casino in Ottawa is one of them. The harness racing track at Rideau Carleton has reopened and is now open to fans in outdoor areas at a capacity of 25%.

The casino’s website stated that “While we understand the province has indicated casinos may be able to reopen, we still have not received clear information about the restrictions. Therefore, there is no firm reopening date.” 

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