"All of our processes and protocols have been updated to reflect the new normal and there is not one department that hasn’t made changes to improve the way they do things." — Tammy Whitney
By Travis Klemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino continues its reopening process after the forced closure from COVID-19, plenty of precautions have been put in place. Still the Tsuut’ina Nation will feel the impact of the three-month hiatus. The Nation relies heavily on the revenue stream of the casino and resort.
In a memo released by the casino general manager Martin Brickstock on March 17, the casino closure was effective immediately stating “the health and safety of our guests, staff members and communities will continue to be our priority.”
But now with the reopening the economy in Alberta, Tsuut’ina is taking a staged and cautious approach.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure that patrons are safe,” said Tammy Whitney, a resort executive about the phased reopening. “We have plexiglass barriers – over 1,000 pieces of plexiglass – between each machine and a circular barrier around dealers.”
Whitney also said that staff and patrons’ temperatures are taken upon entry and at the end of shifts to ensure that no one in the casino has a fever. Additionally, customer loyalty cards are washed in a “card bath” after each use to disinfect them.
Before the pandemic, the casino also had an Occupational Health and Safety officer as part of their team and Whitney says that this has helped them remain safe and achieve a successful reopening as COVID-19 continues to spread in the wider community.
Under Phase 2 of the provincial government’s reopening strategy released June 12, casinos were given permission to reopen. However, given the variance of the COVID-19 situation in different locations across the Alberta, casino management teams took differing approaches.
While Phase 2 did require businesses, including casinos, to monitor physical distancing, supply hand sanitizer and space out stations or put in physical barriers, there are no specific capacity restrictions or mandatory mask rules. As part of the current reopening phase, table games are not permitted.
“Table games are still on hold and we are waiting on direction from AGLC and approval to reopen table games and we are not sure when that will be. All of our processes and protocols have been updated to reflect the new normal and there is not one department that hasn’t made changes to improve the way they do things.” Whitney said.
Despite the reopening, there has been significant impacts in regard to jobs and revenue loss. Whitney says there were significant lay-off but she is hopeful that the operation will return to their staffing numbers pre-COVID-19.
“At this point we are at about 75 per cent staff capacity. One of the saddest things was having to lay off staff. We are very optimistic that over-time with the level of safety protocol we have put in place and as vaccines become widely available that we can build towards more robust staffing. But it will take time.”
As of July 10, the Tsuu’tina health centre completed 346 COVID-19 tests with just two of those tests coming back positive. The health centre testing is open to all Nation citizens and can be booked via phone.
Plenty of guidelines are in place, including social distancing and limiting travel into the city of Calgary to essential services only. There are guidelines stating that there are to be no gatherings of more than 15 people indoors and 50 outdoors.
Additionally, emergency management social media accounts across all platforms, as well as emergency text message updates that can be subscribed to, were set up to keep citizens informed and safe during the pandemic.
While Whitney is not a representative of Tsuut’ina Nation, she does say that operating a First Nations casino means that a large source of community revenue comes from the operations at Grey Eagle.
“The closing of table games and the casino did and will have significant impacts on the community. Tsuu’tina had great measures in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”