Casino expansion a go despite addiction concerns

A $318-million casino expansion at the Rideau Carleton Raceway will proceed, with construction on the south-end entertainment district set to begin this summer.

Construction on $318M Hard Rock project at Rideau Carleton Raceway to begin this summer

The expansion project includes an eight-storey hotel, a 2,500-seat concert venue and 20 new gaming tables. (Supplied)

A $318-million casino expansion at the Rideau Carleton Raceway will proceed, with construction on the south-end entertainment district set to begin this summer.

Ottawa city council approved the Hard Rock Casino proposal Wednesday by a vote of 18-5.

It includes an eight-storey hotel and a 2,500-seat concert venue.

The expansion will also add 20 new gaming tables, sparking concerns among some of the five dissenting councillors about the impact it will have on gambling addiction in Ottawa.

No cap on slot machines

Though the city regulates the number of gaming tables at the site, there is no cap on the number on slot machines. Councillors thought they had placed a limit on slots in 2013, but city staff said it was never included in the zoning bylaw and was therefore never binding.

"It is clear that this is going to have an impact, especially on seniors and older adults in my community," said Coun. Catherine McKenney. "I'm really quite concerned about that."
McKenney pitched a plan to cap the number of slots at 2,000, but lost the vote 8-15.
A rendering of the expanded casino space proposed by the Rideau Carleton Raceway and the Hard Rock Casino. (Hard Rock Casino)

Coun. Eli El Chantiry chided his fellow councillors over the lengthy debate, and told them to "stop being a nanny state."

Regulating gambling is the responsibility of the provincial government, said Mayor Jim Watson, and it should stay that way. 

Mayor Jim Watson voted against a plan to cap the number of slot machines at the expanded casino at 2,000. 0:46

The city does regulate the number of gaming tables at the casino. Hard Rock told the city's rural affairs committee last week there are no plans to expand gambling beyond the current proposal, at least for a few decades.

Council passed a motion that would make sure the casino had to ask local permission to add more gambling tables in the future.

As for a slots expansion, the casino will work with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation if more machines are needed, said Andrew Wright, director of the  joint venture between Hard Rock and the raceway.

Plan to curb problem gambling

Ottawa Public Health put together a four-point plan in reaction to the casino expansion in an effort to address potential gambling addiction associated with the project.

OPH has asked the Ontario government for $150,000 in one-time funding and $200,000 in annual funding for that plan.

The aim is to launch a campaign to prevent problem gambling before it starts, and make sure people already in the throes of addiction have access to treatment.

Coun. Tobi Nussbaum suggested council consider diverting two per cent of the increased revenue the city expects to receive from the casino toward the problem gambling plan in the 2019 budget.

But gambling is regulated by the province, and other councillors balked at letting Queen's Park off the hook.for the cost of addiction services.

"It would signal to the province that we're willing to step up and fund," said Coun. Mark Taylor. "Why would we send that signal?"

Nussbaum's proposal was defeated in a 5-18 vote.