Pandemic waves are fueling liquor, cannabis, and online gaming sales

The COVID-19 pandemic, which closed businesses and kept Manitoban’s home, resulted in large sales of alcohol, pot and online gambling.

At a Legislative Committee meeting Monday, the head of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp. said liquor sales rose 10 percent year-over-year and alcohol home deliveries increased tenfold from $ 500,000 before the pandemic to $ 5 million.

The province’s Internet gaming platform PlayNow.com grew by 200 percent. Cannabis sales doubled in its first full year of sales, with 80 cannabis sellers and more in Manitoba.

Manny Atwal, MLL’s chief executive officer, warned against mistaking increasing sales for increased alcohol, cannabis or gambling consumption.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean Manitobans drink more,” Atwal said at the meeting.

The opposition NDP asked the Crown Services Committee about the contents of MLL’s 2019-20 annual report, which showed alcohol sales of $ 807 million, an increase of $ 13 million from the previous year.

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Liquor sales rose 10 percent year over year and home alcohol deliveries rose from $ 500,000 before the pandemic to $ 5 million. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press Files)

“Part of that sales surge was related to ‘premiumization,’” Atwal said when asked by NDP leader Wab Kinew to describe how the pandemic has affected Manitoban’s consumption patterns.

“So instead of buying something under $ 25, they’re spending $ 30,” Atwal said. “The amount is the same, but the actual dollar receipts are a little higher because they’re buying a little more premium.”

However, customers who regularly consumed alcohol in amounts above recommended Canadian health guidelines on a weekly basis consumed more alcohol during the pandemic, Atwal said.

This group – a minority of customers – drank an extra drink a week, data from the Crown Corporation shows.

The huge surge in alcohol sales was also fueled by panic buying at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when rumors spread that Liquor Marts would be closing, Atwal said.

Without considering the early rush to stock up on alcohol, liquor sales are likely to be nearly two percent higher for the remainder of the pandemic, he estimated.

With restaurants and bars closed, more Manitobans were buying alcohol to consume at home, and with COVID-19’s travel restrictions, there were fewer opportunities for them to buy alcohol outside of the province, Atwal offered.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRE

Cannabis sales doubled in its first full year of sales, with 80 cannabis sellers and more in Manitoba. (Jesse Boily / Winnipeg Free Press Files)

When the pandemic broke out and casinos closed, Manitobans were enrolling in Crown Corporation’s online gaming platform PlayNow.com, Atwal said.

“We’ve seen over 200 percent growth in a short period of time,” he said of the only legal and licensed gaming website in the province. “Over 53,000 Manitobans signed up as new customers in 2020-21.”

Casinos are preparing for a possible reopening

While no date has been set for the casinos to reopen, there is a lot planned to prepare for, said Manny Atwal, CEO of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp.

If they do, it will be a different experience than the days leading up to the pandemic, when players sit shoulder to shoulder at tables and VLTs, he said at a Legislative Committee meeting on Monday.

Equipment is being moved around to distribute customers in anticipation that casino capacity will be limited once public health regulations are relaxed.

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While no date has been set for the casinos to reopen, there is a lot planned to prepare for, said Manny Atwal, CEO of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp.

If they do, it will be a different experience than the days leading up to the pandemic, when players sit shoulder to shoulder at tables and VLTs, he said at a Legislative Committee meeting on Monday.

Equipment is being moved around to distribute customers in anticipation that casino capacity will be limited once public health regulations are relaxed.

Crown Corporation is reviewing data in other jurisdictions to get an idea of ​​what casino customers expect from COVID-19 lockdowns, Atwal said.

He said he expected more space between the VLTs, initially no table games and less food services, as long as pandemic restrictions exist and customers are reluctant to be in close contact with others in public places.

Of the 1,300 employees laid off after the casinos closed on March 18, 2020, 970 remain pending, some have been transferred to government departments at various times, 130 are “voluntary separations,” and 20 percent of management positions have been cut.

Shut down

Manitobans also spent more on legal cannabis, which had sales of $ 51 million in its first full year of operation – a $ 24.5 million increase in sales over the previous sub-year when Manitoba reported $ 26.9 million Cannabis income.

Canada legalized the sale and use of non-medicinal cannabis in October 2018.

The number of cannabis sellers in Manitoba has grown from 40 private retailers to more than 80 now, Atwal said. Looking ahead, he expects cannabis sales to grow slowly and gradually in line with population growth and more retailers to set up stores.

He couldn’t comment on whether the increase in sales means more Manitobans are using cannabis.

“There are definitely consumers who have moved from the black and gray market to the legal market,” he said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislative rapporteur

After Carol spent 20 years reporting on the growing diversity of people who called Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature in early 2020.

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