The OLG has a new Chairman, who is willing to retool the gaming modernization strategy to incorporate an integrated balance of casino expansion, and support for the horseracing industry. The new management approach will especially benefit Ottawa, where the casino debate is polarizing the region once again.
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa appointed Philip Olsson to replace Paul Godfrey as Chairman of the OLG. Godfrey was let go from the position in the spring due to disagreements with the provincial government over assimilating the horseracing industry into the OLG’s expansion strategy.
Olsson, also Chairman of the LCBO, is considered by Sousa to be more sympathetic to rural Ontario than Godfrey. Olsson is willing to find alternative streams of revenue for Ontario racetracks in light of the cancelled slots at racetrack revenue sharing program.
Olsson’s support of the racetracks is good news for the Rideau Carlton Raceway near Ottawa. The racetrack is one of several sites in the region considered to host the proposed OLG casino, but unlike other locations, Rideau Carlton has the full support of Ottawa city council.
The council unanimity for Rideau Carlton received backlash and condemnation from Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. Melnyk lobbied in favour of Mayor Jim Watson’s casino proposal in the fall, on the condition that his Canadian Tire Centre location was also considered as a viable location for a casino.
However, the OLG, prior to Olsson’s appointment as Chairman, clarified that the region in and around Ottawa is entitled to only one casino, as the Ottawa region falls under one OLG-designated gaming zone. Residents are attached to Rideau Carlton and demanded the racetrack be the sole location under consideration, a motion later supported by Watson and city council.
Melnyk began a public relations war against Ottawa city council, and threatened a lawsuit if other locations besides Rideau Carlton weren’t under fair consideration for the casino. In response at a meeting this week, city council voted in favour of two casino zones in the community, with Rideau Carlton as one location, while the other is yet to be determined.
The motion was sent to Olsson and the OLG, who said the proposal will be considered. Olsson must consider remapping the gaming zones in Eastern Ontario to accommodate a second casino in Ottawa. Watson believes Olsson’s concern for Ontario racetracks will help move the motion along.