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City council votes in favour of casino proposal

Andrew Ikeman | Fulcrum Staff

Illustration by Mathias MacPhee 

ON OCT. 10, the Ottawa city council voted in favour of a motion to allow the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) to seek private-sector funding for a casino in the nation’s capital. Mayor Jim Watson said the vote, which was 19-5 for the motion, does not bind the city to building a casino, but allows the OLG to present the city with a proposal.

“It is important to remember that city council’s decision was to signal interest, in principle, of a gaming facility,” said Watson in a statement to the Fulcrum. “This does not commit the city to a facility or even a specific location, but it allows the OLG to request bids from proponents. With infrastructure challenges and federal job cuts, city council cannot afford to not at least consider a proposal next year.”

Ward 12 Councillor and U of O graduate Mathieu Fleury voted against the motion, and said he wanted more consultation with the OLG on the proposal.

“I was making a point yesterday [with my vote],” said Fleury. “It’s unfortunate that OLG didn’t view this process as a working group, which means that the next time we are going to see something at council talking about a casino, there will be a final proposal, one option—a yes or no, basically—on a location.”

According to Fleury, the biggest problem will be the lack of oversight by the city into the various proposals that will begin flowing into the OLG.

“It may involve the [Rideau Carleton Raceway], that might involve other sites, but the issue is that no elected official from the city will have worked through that process and that discussion and understanding of their thought process,” said Fleury. “For me there is tons of risk, and it’s unfortunate [that] as council we weren’t able to establish parameters.”

The Rideau Carleton Raceway, the city’s only current OLG gaming facility, features 1,250 slots, but the contract to house the slots there will expire next year, along with all slots at racetracks across the province. According to the mayor’s office, the Rideau Carleton Raceway garnered $4.4 million in revenue for the City of Ottawa in 2011. The nearest casino is the Casino du Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, Que., whose status as one of the biggest tourist destinations in the region is something Watson would like to see our city cash in on.

“Given these existing gaming options, a new Ottawa gaming facility would not be a big change from what our residents are used to,” said Watson. “However, the difference would be that the City of Ottawa would receive new revenues that would be earmarked for investments in infrastructure renewal and economic development initiatives that create jobs in Ottawa. It would allow us to repatriate some of the money going to the Quebec government.”

Tony Bitonti, OLG’s senior manager of media relations, said they have received interest from the private sector to develop a casino in Ottawa. Bitonti also said the proposals would be vetted and signed through OLG, meaning the city will not see a short list of proposals.

“We will choose the successful proponent, and then that proponent will work with the city to finalize zoning, location, that type of thing too,” said Bitonti. “The contract we are going to sign with the proponent is between OLG and that proponent. It’s not between the city, OLG and the proponent, it’s just between two parties. Where the city does come in, and absolutely they will have a major role to play in this, is in terms of location. Some communities like Kingston and North Bay, who have voted in favour of the possibility of a casino in their area, have put certain restrictions on it … Ottawa has not put those restrictions on as of yet, but they very well could.”