Ottawa's city council came close to killing a new deal with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which adds some gaming table revenue to the city, but ultimately passed the plan 12 to 11.
The contentious vote was on amendments OLG had requested in its deal with the city to expand gaming operations at the city's preferred choice: the Rideau Carleton Raceway.
The city had already approved a plan in November 2012 that would let OLG seek potential casino operators, but today, council was voting on changes to the agreement put forth by OLG.
The altered agreement brings the city an additional $1 million in annual revenue from 21 new gaming tables.
But councillors bristled at a number of terms, including a provision that the city participate in events recognizing the OLG's contributions in the city, a requirement that the city take on legal liability for the casino and its operations, and a lack of defined language to limit the number of tables to 21.
Mayor Jim Watson, who supported the agreement, said he has received five assurances from OLG representatives that they intend to respect the 21 table limit.
In relation to the provision that the city participate in events recognizing the OLG's contributions, Watson said city officials often participate in events where they thank others and are themselves thanked — often with an accompanying giant cheque — and said he doesn't have an issue with it.
As for the liability question, city solicitor Rick O'Connor said the 2012 agreement also included such a clause.
McRae says OLG approach 'sounds like blackmail'
Had council voted against the agreement, the city's deal with OLG would have reverted back to the 2012 plan.
Asked if there were any costs to reverting to the old plan, city manager Kent Kirkpatrick told council the two deals were roughly the same, but said voting no may affect future revenue share agreements if OLG added gaming tables later.
Coun. Maria McRae questioned what she saw as an implied threat that future agreements might not be favourable to the city.
"It sounds murky to me. Sounds a bit grey. It sounds like blackmail to sign this letter," said McRae.
Coun. Diane Holmes, who wanted the revised agreement to include recommendations from the Ottawa Board of Health, said she felt the gaming corporation was being heavy-handed.
"The province needs us far more than we need them, so I don't understand. We seem to think they are controlling us and we have to do whatever they say," she said.
With Watson voting to support the agreement, it passed 12-11. Coun. Rick Chiarelli was absent.