Industry Reports

Ottawa Public Health Warns Casino Expansion Will Lead to More Problem Gambling

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa plans a $318 million expansion of the Rideau Carleton Raceway that will transform the struggling horse racing facility into a glamorous integrated entertainment destination. As authorities consider the proposed project, the Canadian capital’s public health agency issued a report revealing a correlation between gambling availability and growth in problem gambling. To solve this issue, Ottawa Public Health now wants funding for its new four-part strategy aimed at prevention and fighting compulsive gambling.

The health unit warns that adding more slot machines and gaming tables in the area will result in increased prevalence of problem gambling. This is one of the conclusions of Ottawa Public Health’s report released Monday. It cites data by Gambling Research Exchange Ontario according to which after a casino opening in a certain area, there is a significant increase in problem gambling rates. Sometimes, the research shows, the prevalence rates return to normal levels in the long term. In its report, the city’s health unit identifies online gaming and the planned casino expansion as major concerns.

The health experts estimate that approximately 15,000 people in Ottawa may be problem gamblers, an estimate based on provincial statistics about this issue. In comparison, only 540 individuals in the city received gambling addiction treatment in 2016-2017, shows data compiled by Ottawa Public Health. In 2017, around 200 people called the Ontario Problem Gambling Hotline. All these figures indicate that more problem gambling awareness is needed in Ottawa, according to Gillian Connelly, manager of healthy communities with Ottawa Public Health. She explains that the problem is already recognized by different agencies and that they are now looking into a solution, whether the casino expansion plans become a reality or not.

In order to increase awareness and provide more effective prevention and treatment, the health unit is now seeking approval from the city’s board of health for additional funding. It wants $150,000 in one-time funding which would go to a health promotion campaign. Most importantly, the agency needs additional annual funding of $200,000 for its new four-point problem gambling strategy. One of the planned initiatives is creating Ottawa Gambling Harm Prevention Network, a network of treatment providers and prevention centres. The other three parts of the strategy include compiling and analyzing gambling-related health data, as well as better outreach to young people and gamblers who are at risk.

$318 Million Casino and Entertainment Project in South Ottawa

In May 2017, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) announced the partnership between Rideau Carleton Raceway and Hard Rock International, and a few months later, Hard Rock Casino Ottawa took over the slots parlour at the horse racing facility. As part of this partnership, the two gambling providers will invest more than $318 million into a large-scale integrated entertainment destination. The plan has several phases, with the first one involving modest renovations at the existing complex on Albion Road. The second phase, however, is much more ambitious and potentially profitable for the city as it includes a large expansion of the entertainment offerings.

If approved by local and provincial authorities, the new project is expected to launch with construction works in 2019. The proposed 40-hectare complex, estimated to cost around $318 million, would have a casino, four restaurants, as well as a 2,500-seat live music venue. One of the dining venues would be a steakhouse restaurant with 150 seats and a 40-seat lounge. The casino, on the other hand, would house 750 slot machines and 55 gaming tables. The third phase of the expansion plan includes the addition of a 250-room hotel. Hard Rock Casino Ottawa estimates that the plan would create around 2,000 direct and indirect jobs in construction, as well as another 2,000 on-going positions.