The Ottawa casino was one of the few gaming facilities proposed by the OLG that appeared to be moving full steam ahead. But the casino is now dividing members of the community, specifically the local government and the managers of the Ottawa Senators. This week, the Senators took first blood in this ongoing feud.
Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Ottawa Senators, lobbied in favour of a casino in the region, pitting himself among Mayor Jim Watson’s closest allies. But Melnyk expected to have an equal opportunity to bid on the rights to the gambling facility, in which he would propose the grounds next to the Senators’ arena in the suburb of Kanata.
However, Ottawa city council requested that the Rideau Carlton Raceway, longtime home of OLG slots and the largest gambling sector in the region, be considered the primary location for a casino. When the OLG denied Mayor Watson’s request for a second casino, the door was closed on Melnyk’s bid.
The council vote was considered a snub by the Ottawa Senators, which began an ongoing public relations battle between the Melnyk and city council. On Monday, Cyril Leeder, President of the Ottawa Senators and Melnyk’s representative in Ottawa, quit the community task force planning a special Canada Day celebration in 2017 when the country turns 150. Leeder also withdrew himself from the board that manages the Ottawa Convention Centre, and left several community committees.
Marianne Wilkinson, the councilor that represents Kanata where the Senators play, says she is not surprised by Leeder’s resignation and believes it is the least of what Melnyk could do.
“It’s too bad. I really like Cyril. He’s done a great job of connecting the Senators to the community.”
Melnyk says the Senators are a struggling NHL team, and lose on average around $10 million per season. He saw the casino as an opportunity to boost annual revenues for the organization, particularly during the summer months when there is no hockey.
The ongoing revenue loss leaves many experts questioning if Melnyk could relocate the Senators out of Ottawa now that additional casino revenues are off the table.