This renovated Kelowna casino is ready to go once Dr. Bonnie Henry gives the nod | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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This renovated Kelowna casino is ready to go once Dr. Bonnie Henry gives the nod

This is not a scene you will see in a revamped Chances Casino Kelowna when it finally reopens after being should down for the last 10 months because of COVID-19. There's no way of knowing when the reopening will happen.
Image Credit: Submitted/Chances Casino Kelowna
December 24, 2020 - 1:00 PM

While many businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, the casino industry has been totally shuttered since the spring.

In Kamloops and the Okanagan hundreds of casino employees are out of work and millions of dollars in gaming revenue are not going to the cities that host the gaming establishments.

Despite getting zero revenue for much of the year, Stan Walt, owner of Chances Casino Kelowna, took that time to revamp his operation to make it COVID safe, initially in the hope of reopening in the summer.

READ MORE: Kamloops, Okanagan cities losing millions while casinos remain closed due to COVID-19

“We were fully expecting to be open in June, or so, of 2020,” Walt told iNFOnews.ca. “Now we’re 10 months into it and I have no idea how long, we as a casino, will be closed.”

He’s given up predicting when or how he can open, but has changed things around inside the building to make it as COVID-friendly as possible so he can open as soon as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives the go ahead to reopen.

“The players will come back and there’ll be no drywall dust and there will be no dirt and they’ll see a facility that has changed very much from what they left,” Walt said.

He expects it to take another year or more before things can return to the pre-COVID normal for casinos, so the renovations make it much quicker and easier to make adjustments as safety rules change.

Returning patrons will find a big open space with 310 slot machines placed six feet apart in one big room since the walls separating it from the bingo room were knocked down.

The number of slots is down from 348 pre-COVID and are spread over an extra 10,000 square feet that was formerly used for bingo. That allows for safe distancing without having to put up plexiglass to separate players.

Bingo has been “paused” as there is no feasible way to get enough people safe-distanced in one room to make it viable. The bingo pots are based on how many people are playing.

Pre-COVID there were 390 seats crammed fairly close together with prizes of $1,000 per game or more, especially on busy Thursday nights.

“You take that same Thursday night and say, 300 people now equates to 50 or 60,” Walt said. “Now it’s not feasible because even the 50 people who come are going to end up playing $30 or $40 or $50 games, where pre-COVID they played for $1,000. Now they’re saying this isn’t fun anymore.”

Off-track horse racing has also been put on pause. The space upstairs that could accommodate 60 people for races can now, safely distanced, only fit 10 or 15.

The Longshots lounge is down to 60 seats from 140.

Table games, which Chances was given approval to operate in February, are also on pause. Once they’re allowed, it will take three months to train staff to run them.

Walt opened Chances in 2002 with a 24,000 square foot, 900 seat bingo hall, split in half to accommodate smokers.

In 2005, slots were allowed so he built an 18,000 square foot, two-storey addition. In 2008, smoking was banned indoors so he lost 40 per cent of his bingo players. That space was adjusted to make room for more slots.

Ventilation machines that turned over the air in the smoking section were left in “storage” on the roof. He’s now reactivated that machinery so the air in the entire building can be completed replaced every eight minutes.

The bingo hall had been built on a concrete floor. During the COVID shutdown, he put in a raised floor so when it’s time to bring the game back, it will be much faster and easier to relocate the slot machines with their attendant wiring.

Walt has applied to the City of Kelowna for a variance permit as the next stage of renovation moves to two planned additions. This won’t add to the playing floor space but is needed to expand the room where slot machines are serviced. A separate addition will expand the staff room and provide much needed clerical space.

Out of 170 employees, Walt kept 14 of his key managers on the payroll – people who he refers to as his “intellectual property.”

“These are all the people who will be able to make this place run when it reopens,” he said.

While security managers have been busy installing major upgrades in the security system, other managers have been retrained to do things like lay carpet and build raised flooring, something Walt says they willingly did.

Will players flood back into this and other casinos?

“I really don’t have a choice but to think that,” Walt said. “I believe we will be adapting to a new normal, for sure, which is why the wide open spaces of this particular property is going to appeal to people. They’re going to be a little apprehensive when they come back. I don’t think they want to be shoulder to shoulder with the person sitting next to them. It’s going to take a little while before that becomes comfortable."

The renovation, which includes moving to one main entrance so customer counts can be done more easily and changes to the decor, has cost about $1.8 million.

Now, it’s all up to Dr. Henry.

“We’re just kind of hanging out, waiting for something to happen – getting tired of drinking coffee,” Walt said.

Chances Kelowna is independently owned by Walt. Other casinos in the Okanagan and Kamloops are owned by Gateway Casino, who did not reply to an emailed request for information on changes it may be making to its operations.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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