Eugene Melnyk Draws The Line Following Ottawa Casino Vote

Eugene Melnyk, the owner and chairman of the Ottawa Senators, is hinting his days of remaining invested in Ottawa are coming to an end.  Melnyk is reacting to a 10-1 Ottawa city council vote, which shut the door on his plans to develop an OLG-sponsored casino at Canadian Tire Centre, home of the Senators.

As the sole owner of the Senators, Melnyk has established roots in the Ottawa community, and is committed to keeping the Senators in town.  But as the head of a broad entertainment empire, Melnyk remains a businessman committed to expansion and profitability. 

The casino proposal, which would allow him to renovate the arena and develop the surrounding land, was intended to inject a “third revenue stream” into a franchise that continues to bleed money.  Melnyk argued that the Canadian Tire Centre is easy for people to access, and would ensure a significant stream of revenue for the local and provincial governments – an argument that was unpersuasive to the majority of councilors.

“It puts a whole damper on my enthusiasm that I came here with 10 years ago.  You throw up your hands and say, ‘This might as well be an Eastern European country.’”

In 2012 Ottawa agreed to let the OLG find potential casino operators, who were willing to bid for the casino rights.  At the time, the councilors put no restrictions on the viable location for the gaming facility.  Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson believed the city could support two gambling facilities; a privatized casino in the downtown core, as well as continuing to host slots and table games at the Rideau Carlton Raceway – similar to the then Toronto casino proposal.

However, the OLG changed the terms last month by confirming the region in and around Ottawa was part of one provincial gaming zone.  The zoning laws restricted Ottawa to one gambling facility, which put public pressure on Watson and other councilors to support Rideau Carlton. 

The raceway supports as many as 1,000 people who work directly at the racetrack or are associated with the horseracing industry.  The racetrack is subsidized by the slots and table game revenues, which owners stress that without the revenues from the games, the racetrack would be unable to survive.

Watson began lobbying in favour of Rideau Carlton against the wishes of Melnyk, and convinced the majority of councilors to support only the racetrack.  Following the vote, Melnyk hinted his days in Ottawa may not be as permanent as he once philosophized.

“There is no plan C.”

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