ON MARCH 12, the Ontario government announced their decision to begin accepting private-sector bids for the opening of a fully outfitted casino within Ottawa city limits. This isn’t the first time there have been talks about a casino in Ottawa: In the early ’90s Jacqueline Holzman, former Ottawa mayor, had plans and approval from city council to build a casino on Sparks Street. Bruce Firestone, the man responsible for bringing the Senators to Ottawa, also proposed building a casino at the same site 20 years ago.
Over the years, countless other Ottawa casino projects have been abandoned at various planning stages for some reason or another. On the surface it may seem like a good idea to have a location in Ottawa where gamblers and thrill seekers can enjoy themselves close to home, but will a local casino benefit or spoil our sprawling city?
Point: Let the games begin
It’s no secret that Ottawa is best known among potential tourists as a government town with no culture—who are we kidding, half of Ottawans feel the same way. Though critics of Ottawa couldn’t be more wrong, it wouldn’t hurt to have a significant local attraction to entice Torontonians and Montrealers out of their own cities and into ours. A local casino could do just that.
If our city wants to improve its tourist industry, it needs something to intrigue people with. Our shopping district cannot compete with those of the major cities to our east and west, but a casino in our downtown core would give Ottawa something other major Canadian cities don’t have. A little touch of Vegas is exactly what Ottawa needs, and city councillors are smart to seek funding for a local gambling site.
Culture and tourism aside, Mayor Jim Watson made a valid point last week when he declared he was open to talks with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, saying in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen that, “Any given month, literally millions of dollars from Ontario residents are staying in Quebec and that doesn’t help our city or hospitals or schools. If we have an opportunity to repatriate some of that money, we should have a serious discussion with the province.”
Building an easily accessible casino in Ottawa would not only repatriate some of our city’s lost cash, but also prevent any more of it from heading across the Quebec border. If we want to bring money back to Ottawa, we need to get creative about how our city generates jobs and cash flow, and building a new casino would do just that.
Ottawa could only benefit from this casino building project, and with so many usable sites available (Sparks Street, Lansdowne, Kanata, to name a few), Ottawa would be gambling away our options if he didn’t consider constructing it.
Counterpoint: I’ll stay
Supporters of an Ottawa gambling site argue the absence of a casino is hindering our economy. Most local gamblers find themselves heading to Casino du Lac Leamy, which is in Gatineau, a short bus ride away from the downtown core.
The Hull-based casino opened in 1996 and has been attracting tourists and Ottawa residents since, carrying on with virtually no competition from Ontario. In an effort to take back some of the revenue generated by Lac Leamy, the provincial government has opened the door—yet again—to solicit bids for an Ottawa casino.
It seems most are forgetting we have a casino site in Ottawa. Rideau Carleton Raceway has been serving Ottawa as a casino for over a decade. It opened mainly to compete with Casino du Lac Leamy and attempted to keep taxpayers’ money in the province.
It would be more cost efficient and make more sense to expand Rideau Carleton Raceway than to build a new casino altogether. The Ottawa casino is located near the new CE centre, the Ottawa Airport, and newly built hotels. It would create a stronger presence in Ottawa south and could easily attract tourists and locals with its free bus shuttle service.
Before our city signs the dotted line and gets its highly anticipated casino, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions, not the least of which being, “Is building a local casino worth it?”
Gambling is a very serious addiction. We have enough people battling their bad habit without a more conveniently located casino tempting them. And if the sparsely visited Sparks Street Mall is going to be considered again, U of O students would be directly targeted as customers and the number of student gamblers could rise.
Enough is enough. We have online gambling, Rideau Carleton Raceway, and Casino du Lac Leamy. Our city should try and think of other ways to generate income instead of taking the cheap way out.