Hard Rock taking over Rideau Carleton Raceway casino

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has announced that Hard Rock International has partnered with the Rideau Carleton Raceway on a multimillion-dollar expansion.

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa will take over day-to-day operations at raceway in fall 2017

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa will take over day-to-day operations of OLG slots at Rideau Carleton Raceway in the fall of 2017. (Supplied)

The Rideau Carleton Raceway will undergo a multimillion-dollar expansion that will bring a hotel, a music venue and hundreds of new jobs to the struggling Ottawa horse racing and gambling facility.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) announced Monday that Hard Rock International will partner with the raceway, with the two companies investing more than $320 million to create an "integrated entertainment destination" in the city's rural south end.

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa — 51-per-cent owned by Hard Rock International, with the rest controlled by the owners the raceway — will take over the day-to-day operations of the slots at the raceway in the fall of 2017 as part of a 20-year agreement, OLG said in a release.

Under the city's zoning, 21 gaming tables can be added to the gambling offerings, and the number of slots are expected to increase slightly to 1,250 — although OLG has estimated that there's enough demand for 2,000 slot machines at Rideau Carleton.

The city receives a payment from the OLG slots, which in the last five years has been in the $5-million range.

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa is a partnership between Hard Rock International and Rideau Carleton Raceway. (Jean-Sebastien Marier/Radio-Canada)

Jim Allen, chair of Hard Rock International, revealed details of the "master plan vision" for the raceway at a news conference Monday afternoon.

The first phase, Allen said, would involve modest renovations to the Albion Road complex by the end of the year.

But the second phase would see a large expansion of entertainment offerings, including a new casino, four restaurants, a 2,000-seat venue for live music and a Hard Rock merchandise shop. 

The plan also includes building a new entrance to the raceway that would create "a sense of arrival," said Allen.

It's not until the third phase, sometime after 2019, that the company plans to turn its attention to building a 250-room hotel at the Rideau Carleton Raceway, which opened in 1962.

The new complex will be in tough competition with the well-established Lac Leamy Casino in Gatineau, which boasts 1,700 slots machines, about 70 gaming tables, a number of restaurants, an 1,100-seat theatre and a Hilton Hotel. It is also in a more advantageous location to draw tourists staying in Ottawa's downtown core.

Horse racing will remain at the raceway, with Ottawa West-Nepean MPP and provincial infrastructure minister Bob Chiarelli saying the new deal would "ensure the survivability of this iconic sport." 

However, the new deal won't see the harness-racing side of the business sharing in any of the gambling revenue, which was the case before 2012.

Instead, the raceway owners are hoping to introduce harness racing to an expanded and younger audience, who will be attracted to the Rideau Carleton Raceway by the Hard Rock experience.

Prior to Monday's news conference, Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod said the announcement was great news for her community, which has suffered after the slots-at-the-raceway program was ended by the Liberal government five years ago.

"I'm looking at $320 million investment into my community that will, I think, drive more growth in the city's south end," she said. "I'm going to see a lot more stability for the horse people.."

Allen told reporters that the he plans to "keep all the employees". The deal with the OLG stipulates that the Hard Rock Casino Ottawa will honour the collective agreement of provincial workers who currently operate the slots at the raceway, until the contract expires in a few years when it will have to be renegotiated. 

The company estimates that the entire master plan will create 2,000 direct and indirect construction jobs, and 800 on-going jobs at the Hard Rock premises.