City committee signals interest in casino

A city committee held a late-night vote to approve a motion to let the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation know Ottawa was interested in a casino.
City committee approves move to let OLG know Ottawa is interested in having a casino. 2:44
A city committee held a late-night vote to approve a motion to let the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation know Ottawa was interested in a casino. 
Carol Wu with the Amethyst Women's Addiction Centre expressed concern that a casino would lead to more problem gambling. (CBC)

The finance and economic development committee heard from OLG and citizens until 10 p.m. Tuesday night before deciding to get on the list.

Rod Phillips, president and CEO of OLG, insisted this is a first step that's not binding for the city. For a casino to go ahead, the private operator who will pay for it, the city who will zone it, and OLG all have to agree, he said.

"Our approach is to work collaboratively with communities. We've seen 33 communities that want to work with us," said Phillips.

The OLG did add, though, if city councillors voted against the idea either at committee Tuesday or next week at city council, the nearby township of Clarence-Rockland had already expressed interest in building a new casino east of Ottawa.

The city committee put forth a motion Tuesday evening to signal Ottawa's interest in a casino, a move that would allow the OLG to seek proposals from potential operators.

Meeting lasted until 10 p.m.

The 32 delegations, including community groups, members of the public and other stakeholders such as the Rideau-Carleton Raceway, shared their opposition and support for a casino. 
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson has said bringing a casino to Ottawa would help bring revenue to the city that is currently going to Gatineau because of Casino du Lac Leamy. (CBC)

But they did not start speaking until close to 7 p.m. Tuesday, the original end time for the meeting, because councillors had many questions for the OLG.

Many councillors also expressed their desire to preserve the Rideau-Carleton Raceway in south Ottawa instead of building a new casino.

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson also asked the OLG to give special consideration to the Rideau-Carleton Raceway in the city's search for a potential casino operator in Ottawa.

Councillors still don't know how much the city would share in gambling revenues, where a casino would go, and studies on the economic and social impact won't be completed until later in the process.

With such uncertainty, many community groups voiced their concern about the social costs of adding a gaming facility in the city and urged Mayor Jim Watson and the councillors on the committee not to rush into a vote.

Committee voted 10 to 1 in favour

The committee voted 10-1 in favour of sending OLG a letter of interest for hosting a casino. Councillor Diane Deans was the only dissenting vote.

Watson said signalling interest to OLG doesn't commit the city. 
Delegations waited until 7 p.m. before they got a chance to voice their opinions about a proposed casino for the city. (CBC)

"If it makes sense then we should support it, if it is a bad location, or a bad financial model or it just doesn't make any sense or we're just not comfortable with it, that's the off-ramp where we say, 'thanks but no thanks we're not going to go that route,'" he said.

But councillor Deans said stopping a process like this is not as easy as it sounds.

"I remember back at Lansdowne when we said we'll just test out the unsolicited proposal from OSEG...well we know where that led. Once you get on a path it's really hard to get off," she said.

Ottawa city council must still approve the motion at a meeting next week.