5 Sask. bingo halls voluntarily close as new COVID-19 restrictions gut capacity

·3 min read

Bingo halls received the green light to continue operating after Saskatchewan introduced new COVID-19 restrictions last week, but a drastic reduction in capacity has led some to make the hard decision to close voluntarily.

When provincial safety measures initially limited bingo hall capacity to 150 patrons, Amalgamated Charities Inc. (ACI) — a non-profit that operates five bingo halls in Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw — made it work.

They typically seat up to 550 people, ACI President Patsy Warren said, but adapted to reduced patronage and safety regulations by blocking off tables and chairs to allow physical distancing, hiring additional cleaning staff, and checking visitors' temperatures at the door.

"Everything went as normal and everyone was pretty cooperative. So, it was running good," Warren said on Monday's Morning Edition.

However, she said the latest capacity restrictions that came into effect on Friday have now made business unsustainable — and with the safety of patrons and staff also in mind, the organization's five bingo halls will be closed until Dec. 17.

"[The restrictions] just made it impossible for us to remain open, which is unfortunate for the charities, as lots of those rely solely on their bingo funds," Warren said.

Safety of staff, customers also a priority

Additional restrictions were announced by the provincial government on Nov. 25 and implemented Friday after cases of COVID-19 surged across Saskatchewan.

Premier Scott Moe said residents need to "slow down a little bit," but a return to the tighter restrictions on businesses —like those introduced earlier in the pandemic — would hinder the economy.

"The overwhelming majority of Saskatchewan businesses and their employees in this province are operating safely day-to-day so it would be terribly unfair, and it would have a huge negative impact to close down all of those businesses, and put thousands of Saskatchewan people out of work," Moe said.

The restrictions included a further reduction in capacity at casinos, bingo halls, arenas, live theatres, movie theatres and performing arts venues — all of which can now host just 30 patrons at a time.

And according to Warren, with about 100 staff and 104 charities working through ACI's five bingo halls, the patron cap is simply too low — there is no way to turn a profit.

"We just had to make a really hard decision … but when it came down to it financially, if we can't pay the bills, there is no money to disperse to the charities … [and] they're going to be working for nothing," Warren said.

"And we felt the safety of our staff, our charities and our customers as well — that definitely came into factor."

Great support

Warren is not the only one with safety in mind.

Earlier this month, and before the latest restrictions were introduced, more than 400 doctors signed a letter that called in part for a 28-day closure of bars, bingo halls, gyms and places of worship.

Warren said she still worries the closure will leave charities supported by the ACI in the lurch; the multiple religious groups, charities, non-profits and sports groups that would normally use their bingo halls to raise money will be losing thousands of dollars a month.

But when the bingo halls announced their decision to close, Warren said they were met with understanding.

"When we made our decision and we posted it that we were deciding to close, we had great support from customers on our Facebook page," Warren said.

"So the response has been really good. And, you know, 'We'll be there when you reopen' … So we're hoping that that happens."

The bingo halls that will be closed until Dec. 17 are:

  • Leisure Time Bingo in Moose Jaw.

  • Bingo Palace in Regina.

  • Centennial Bingo in Regina.

  • Fantasyland Bingo in Regina.

  • ClubWest Bingo in Saskatoon.