The flashing lights and spinning wheels of the thousands of slot machines flickered, but the casino floor, usually noisy and bustling, was silent; as it has been for 16 months.
Casino Niagara and Fallsview Casino, both now managed by US-based Mohegan Gaming, have been closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
But that’s about to change. Both will be welcome to players on July 23 but with some notable changes.
I was invited to discover the new experience. The first thing I noticed were the check-in desks and the space for a long queue. Where you once entered, you must now log in and register for the casino’s new Locality Program to be able to enter.
Fallsview maintains it’s for contact tracing, but admits it won’t follow players around the casino or force them to use cars to gamble, so this seems like a way to get people to sign up. .
The first thing I noticed once I stepped on the casino floor were new marks on the freshly installed mat designed to try to space players out, although the casino only opens at 30% of its capacity as it speeds up operations.
The biggest change I noticed was when I sat down at the blackjack table: the plexiglass now separated me from what my fellow players and the dealer would be.
A small space was open just above the felt where I could place my chips. The table games won’t open until July 30, and there are more of them. Fallsview used the downtime to set up tables throughout the game room and set up an electronic craps table for the first time.
As I walked through the desolate maze of slot machines, I also noticed plexiglass between them. Las Vegas did the same when it reopened its casinos, but has since discontinued it.
Fallsview tells me he’s bought enough plexiglass to cover boards at least the size of an NHL arena, but hasn’t set a timeline for when he might fall. He maintains that the machines will be cleaned frequently.
Masks are mandatory at all times in Fallsview; the CEO even told me that the many security cameras would be used to spot those who weren’t in masquerade. They can of course be taken to eat or drink, but when it comes to food, one notable thing is missing: the buffet.
While the buffets may reopen, Fallsview has decided to keep theirs closed. He’s turned the space into an “a la carte” dining room and says he hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to return the buffet.
I noticed what looked like a breeze on my face as I walked around. Fallsview says it has installed an air filtration system that frequently changes the air in the casino floor.
Fallsview acknowledges having used the 16 month downtime to grow. The casino is significantly larger, having taken over some retail stores. New tables have been added, including for the first time an electronic craps table. And other changes are underway.
The casino plans to take advantage of a new law passed by Ottawa that will allow sports betting on a single game. Under construction in the casino is a sports betting, however, no timetable has been set for its opening.
Beyond having to queue, sign and enter, none of the health restrictions are too onerous. It will be interesting to see how players buy into it and how long Fallsview keeps them in place.
Also, for the very first time, I left the casino with as much money as I entered.