South African casinos switch slot machines back on, but hurdles remain

PRETORIA, South Africa (Reuters) - When Sun International's SUIJ.J Times Square Casino in South Africa's administrative capital Pretoria opens its doors again on Monday, following a three-month shutdown, every second slot machine will be off and shields will separate clients.

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The seating arrangement, designed to maintain physical distance between customers, is one of the new measures casinos are putting in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The casino, as are others, is only allowed to operate at 50% capacity of its over 2,000 slot machines and 60 casino tables to avoid crowding, as South Africa eased lockdown restrictions further on Monday.

The industry is one of the hardest hit by the lockdown restrictions imposed from late March to slow the spread of the virus.

Sun International rival Tsogo Sun Gaming TSGJ.J lost an estimated 2 billion rand ($116.05 million) in revenue during the three-month lockdown. Sun International has proposed raising 1.2 billion rand through a rights issue in order to survive the pandemic.

The industry, which contributes around 1% to the economy, is among the few sectors in the country which had been growing above 4% before the outbreak. It generated over 18 billion rand in revenues in 2018.

It has welcomed the reopening, but it does not expect to see many ardent gamblers rushing back to roulette and poker games soon. A ban on alcohol sales will also hurt.

“Downstairs we’re not opening those (casino) tables yet because we don’t know how many customers will come,” Time Square casino general manager Ruben Gooranah told Reuters inside the two-floor casino.

Due to the half-capacity limit, Sun International will temporarily lay off some workers until it can operate at full capacity.

It will also not reopen its Sun City Resort which depends on visitors from the country’s other regions, Group Chief Executive Anthony Leeming said.

Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Promit Mukherjee and Emelia Sithole-Matarise