The ongoing Ottawa casino saga just got murkier for all parties involved in the process. The Ontario government rejected Ottawa’s bid for a second gambling facility in the region, leaving councilors divided over how to move forward with the process.
Ottawa voted in favour of a local casino last fall, and gave the OLG consent to begin looking for casino operators. But Mayor Jim Watson and his allies on city council expected options for a second gambling facility given the size of the Ottawa community. The OLG previously carved Ontario into pre-designated gambling zones, and determined the Ottawa region was authorized to host one casino.
Earlier this spring, Watson and the majority of city council publicly stated they preferred the Rideau Carleton Raceway as the ideal location for the casino. The Raceway is currently home to OLG slots, and is popular among residents as the city’s premium gambling destination. Rideau Carleton’s operators also warned city council that a casino in another location will take valuable revenue away from the Raceway, and ultimately lead to the facility’s closure.
Council’s unwavering support for Rideau Carleton angered capitalists in the community, including Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk who expected a fair bidding process for the rights to the casino. Melnyk supported Watson’s initial lobbying for an Ottawa casino, but expected to be an eligible contender in the bidding process for the facility. Melnyk’s plan would install a casino near the Canadian Tire Centre where the Senators play in the suburb of Kanata.
Former OLG Chairman Paul Godfrey refused Watson’s request for a second casino earlier this spring. But Godfrey was later dismissed from his position by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Watson tried again to make Ottawa’s case with Godfrey’s successor, Phillip Olsson. The new OLG Chairman is more closely aligned with Wynne’s government than Godfrey, particularly with Finance Minister Charles Sousa who makes the final decision on the OLG gambling modernization process.
Sousa and Olsson confirmed to Watson that a decision would be made before Ottawa’s finance and economic development committee meets to discuss the casino proposal later today. Living up to their word, Sousa sent Watson a letter officially rejecting the second casino proposal by arguing the OLG’s decision to place all of Ottawa into one gambling zone was done based on “extensive analytical modelling.”
In response to the rejection, Watson later sent an email to all city council members asking for a clarification vote that Rideau Carleton is the preferred location for the casino. The vote is expected to occur after the economic development committee discusses the pros and cons of the casino, but Watson doesn’t want to delay the vote on the casino location.
Melnyk is expected to be at the committee meeting, and will likely be on hand to witness the council vote on the preferred casino location. The Senators owner previously threatened legal action if the casino location wasn’t put to an open bidding process, which could affect the location confirmation vote.