24-hour gambling in Saskatchewan casinos gets the green light for weekends

Monday, June 10th, 2019 9:03pm



“On the weekends we see the casino still very busy at some of the later hours. So in that sense we’re just aligning ourselves with other Canadian jurisdictions...” —Lionel Tootoosis, of the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority
By Shari Narine
Windspeaker.com Contributor

By July, gambling activities in casinos in Saskatchewan will operate non-stop from Friday through Sunday.

The Saskatchewan Liquor & Gaming Authority has approved the requests to extend weekend hours from the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) and the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation.

Lionel Tootoosis, senior vice president of operations for SIGA, says those extended hours have the potential to increase revenue for the seven SIGA-operated casinos by millions, based on previous occasions where weekend hours had been extended.

“Obviously there’s a revenue-generation component to it, but we want to serve the needs of some of our patrons.

“On the weekends we see the casino still very busy at some of the later hours. So in that sense we’re just aligning ourselves with other Canadian jurisdictions (where) a lot of casino gaming facilities are moving to that 24 hours,” said Tootoosis.

SIGA operates the Bear Claw Casino and Hotel near Carlyle, Dakota Dunes Casino near Saskatoon, Gold Eagle Casino in North Battleford, Living Sky Casino in Swift Current, Northern Lights Casino in Prince Albert, Painted Hand Casino in Yorkton and Gold Horse Casino in Lloydminster. Gold Horse Casino opened this past January bringing the first electronic table games to Saskatchewan.

Gaming revenue generated by SIGA is split three ways with half going into the First Nations Trust, which is distributed to First Nation communities in the province. The other 50 per cent is split evenly between the Community Development Corporations, which are situated in casino locations and fund local initiatives, and the provincial government’s General Revenue Fund. According to SIGA’s 2017-2018 annual report, $253.7 million in revenue was generated.

Twenty-five per cent of net profits earned by SaskGaming, which operates casinos in Regina and Moosejaw, also go into the First Nations Trust.

While SIGA and SaskGaming didn’t submit a joint proposal to Saskatchewan Liquor & Gaming Authority for approval, Shanna Schulhauser, SaskGaming’s director of communications, says they did send their proposals around the same time, noting that SaskGaming also want to get in line with what other casinos throughout Canada are doing.

“Between SaskGaming and SIGA, we do have a really good working relationship so there were some conversations and there were a few proposals that went forward,” Schulhauser said.

Although the Saskatchewan Liquor & Gaming Authority is the approving authority for casinos, spokesperson David Morris wouldn’t comment on what factors were taken into consideration when granting the extended weekend hours.

Tootoosis says he isn’t concerned that extending weekend hours will lead to an increase in problem gambling or social issues.

“We obviously look at those things when we look at responsible gambling,” he said. “People make the choice to come out and gamble. We’re obviously monitoring things very closely.”

“SaskGaming is committed to offering casino gaming entertainment in a socially-responsible manner,” said Schulhauser.

Both SIGA and SaskGaming have implemented the internationally-recognized GameSense program, which is designed to promote informed choice and healthy behaviours among gaming patrons. Staff are trained to watch for escalation factors, which will now include fatigue and could result in staff asking patrons to take a break or leave the property.

“We’ve got a number of controls in place. … all the resources we have are available currently during our current hours. These would be extended throughout that 24-hour period on the weekend,” said Schulhauser.

“All Saskatchewan casinos have achieved (Responsible Gambling) Check Accreditation,” said Tootoosis. “That comes with being a responsible operator, which we are.”

The RG Check has eight standards that define the problem gambling safety net for gaming venues, which allows responsible gambling practices to be embedded in the operations. The RG index is updated as changes in the industry warrant.

Tootoosis also points out that a portion of SIGA’s revenue, which goes to the First Nations Trust, is allocated to the First Nations Addiction Rehabilitation Fund.

“Those monies go to treating some of the issues that come from this, but we see that as a very small percentage of the population,” he said.

The rehabilitation fund, established in 1995, was set up to ensure effective and accessible education, along with prevention and treatment programs for problem gambling. The fund receives $2.25 million annually, which is redistributed to tribal councils and First Nations for problem gambling programming.

No one from the fund would speak to Windspeaker.com about the increased gambling opportunity.

For now, SIGA casinos will have slots and cages open for the extended weekend hours. Additional opening hours may also be undertaken on long weekends. Eventually, Tootoosis sees extended hours for food and beverage services as well as the tables.

“We just want to make sure we’re serving our guests,” he said. “It’s a natural evolution of our business model and we’re very happy to be generating all this revenue back to our stakeholders.”

Both SIGA and SaskGaming say their casinos will open with extended weekend hours once the logistics, including impacts on unionized employees, who have been notified of the change, have been worked out.