The city of Ottawa’s handling of the OLG casino file could have long-lasting implications for business investment and economic development in the region. The Chamber of Commerce is concerned that an all-out war between the city under Mayor Jim Watson and the Ottawa Senators under owner Eugene Melnyk will keep other businesses from making commitments to the city.
Mayor Watson unabashedly supports a casino in the city, and relied on Melnyk in the early days of the process to rally the community behind the cause. Melnyk agreed to throw the Senators support behind the casino with an understanding that he and his organization would be eligible to bid for the rights to the casino.
When the OLG confirmed that Ottawa will only host one casino, city council unanimously voted in favour of the city’s racetrack, Rideau Carlton Raceway – the long-time gambling capital of the region as the preferred location for a casino. The motion was submitted to the OLG, which immediately cooled the relationship between Melnyk and Ottawa.
The outspoken Senators owner shared his disappointment with Canadian media outlets, including one of the largest sports broadcasters in Toronto to complain about Ottawa’s failure to hold open bidding processes in regards to capital investment.
Due to the flaring tension, local councilors and businesses are worried that Melnyk’s all-out attack will hurt the Ottawa economy. The Senators are one of the most highly respected organizations in the region, and in many ways function as ambassadors for other major corporations interested in Ottawa.
If the owner of the Senators criticizes the city’s reputation for handling investments – whether that is a casino or any type of business, it will hurt the local economy going forward. Watson admitted that the handling of the casino file could have been done better, but maintains council made the right decision for the people of Ottawa – a position unlikely to satisfy Melnyk.
The war of words is growing stronger, and with the Senators preparing to hit the ice for the NHL regular season again, it remains to be seen how Melnyk might use home games to continue his war with the city.