'Not the casino that people are used to': Lac-Leamy set to reopen, but with big changes

New-look casino
Gamblers will be separated from dealers and each other by plexiglass barriers when the Casino du Lac-Leamy reopens on Thursday. Photo by Mark Holleron

One of the region's most popular entertainment attractions is gambling that a series of changes aimed at keeping visitors and employees safe during the pandemic will win the public’s support.

The Casino du Lac-Leamy is set to reopen Thursday after being closed since March due to the COVID-19 crisis – but patrons will notice a number of changes aimed at keeping them and casino employees as safe as possible while the virus continues to circulate in the region. 

Gone are the days of making a spontaneous trip to play the slots or hold your cards close to your chest at gaming tables. Instead, visitors will be asked to reserve spots in advance, and plexiglass barriers will separate gamblers from the dealer and each other. 

“It’s not the casino that people are used to, for sure,” Lac-Leamy’s director of communications, Catherine Schellenberg, told OBJ on Wednesday. “Safety is really our priority. There’s a lot of adjustments to make sure that we apply all of the measures that we need to put into place.”

The biggest change for most visitors will be the need to book spots in advance. While the casino will still accept walk-in traffic, priority will be given to people who’ve made reservations online at the casino website.

“There’s no guarantee that (customers who haven’t reserved a spot in advance) will be able to come in, but we’ll try to find them a spot if we can,” Schellenberg said.

Slot machine stylus
Slot machine players will now be required to use a stylus at the Casino du Lac-Leamy. Photo by Mark Holleron

Customers will be asked to book spots in one of four zones that each offer a different mix of slots and games. Occupancy will be limited to 250 patrons per zone, and each zone has its own designated parking lot, entrances and exits. Zones have been separated by temporary walls, and customers will not be permitted to move between areas except to purchase food at one grab ’n’ go restaurant location.

All other bars and restaurants at the facility remain closed for now.

While there is no time limit on reservations, the casino is “not encouraging people to come here and just hang out,” Schellenberg said.

Slot machines
Slot machine players will now be separated by two vacant machines to maintain physical distancing. Photo by Mark Holleron

About three million people visit the casino in a normal year, making it one of the National Capital Region’s most visited tourist attractions. According to Loto-Qu​ébec’s most recent annual report, the facility earned revenues of $265 million in fiscal 2019.

Those numbers are almost certain to take a hit due to the new measures, which will likely cut attendance to only a fraction of the 7,200 people who walked through the casino’s doors in an average day last year.

Still, Schellenberg said customers eager to get back on the gaming floor are snapping up spots at a healthy clip ​– about half of the available slots in each zone are already reserved for the next three weeks, and this weekend is fully booked.

Gaming tables
Gaming tables will be limited to four players, and only dealers will be allowed to handle cards and chips. Photo by Mark Holleron

Patrons will notice other changes as well.

Masks will be mandatory for all customers and employees, and all customers will be required to sanitize their hands before entering the facility. Visitors will also notice a bevy of other modifications aimed at maintaining physical distancing and limiting the amount of contact with machines and gaming paraphernalia.

For example, slots players will also be given rubber-tipped stylus pens to avoid touching machines, and there will be two empty machines separating each player at all times. At gaming tables, customers will not be allowed to handle cards or chips, and chips will be washed and disinfected daily.

In addition, the number of players will be limited to four per table, and protective screens have been installed to separate players from each other and the dealer. Keno and poker will not be offered so as to limit the handling of chips and cards.

Finally, what is normally a 24-hour facility will be closed from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. every day to allow for a deep cleaning and disinfecting of the facility.

“There will be adjustments for sure,” Schellenberg said. “But that’s been the name of the game for the past few months. We just want everyone to have as enjoyable an experience as possible under the current conditions.”