A masked statue of Billy Barker sits on top of his namesake casino. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

A masked statue of Billy Barker sits on top of his namesake casino. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

Quesnel mayor, council support call for B.C. casino re-openings

Letter to Premier Horgan, endorsed by 12 B.C. mayors, asks for clarity on casino re-opening plan

After being closed for more than a year due to COVID-19, B.C.’s casinos are pleading with Premier John Horgan to shed light on a plan to allow reopening.

On March 4, an email was sent to Premier Horgan asking for clarity on the situation for B.C. casinos. The letter, written by Val van den Broek, the mayor of the City of Langley, was endorsed by 12 other B.C. mayors, including Quesnel mayor Bob Simpson.

The letter notes the mandated closure of casinos will have a “lasting effect” on employees and their families.

“Nearly 37,000 people are employed through British Columbia’s gaming, entertainment, leisure and hospitality sectors, including over 10,000 people directly employed by gaming operators in casinos, community gaming centres, bingo centres and horse racetracks,” the email said.

Attorney General David Eby issued a directive to temporarily close all gaming facilities in the province by midnight on March 16, 2020. They have been closed ever since.

In Quesnel, Billy Barker Casino Hotel majority owner Brad Kotzer said he is aware of the email written to Premier Horgan, and the fact that Mayor Simpson endorsed it — in part at Kotzer’s request. He’s hoping for a reaction from health officials and the province.

“It’s been tough. [The casino is] closed, yet we are keeping the power on and some people employed. I’m surprised more casinos haven’t announced bankruptcies yet,” Kotzer said. “We’ve gone to Dr. Bonnie Henry and her staff a few times, but the answer is always, ‘no, not yet.’”

READ MORE: Quesnel casino hoping for spring opening

Mayor Van den Broek’s email notes that other Canadian provinces and territories have kept casinos and gaming facilities open, with restrictions.

“Workers and their families deserve to know what the Province is doing to get them back to work as quickly and safely as possible,” Mayor van den Broek said in the email.

The email was presented to Quesnel city council at the Mar. 23, 2021 regular council meeting for the information of council members. Mayor Bob Simpson noted that as a community with a casino, council and staff have been working with casino operators to find out where the province is on reopening.

Billy Barker Casino’s Kotzer said the year-long closure has been frustrating, especially in a city with consistently low COVID-19 cases.

“It’s tough for areas that are doing a good job of keeping numbers low or, because of geographic reasons, have been able to keep numbers low. There have been a handful of cases in Quesnel, and yet [B.C. has] the same rules for all the health areas,” he said, adding the Billy Barker is willing to reopen with minimal staff and few customers permitted at a time, and heavy safety measures.

PHOTO: Billy Barker’s festive new suit

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