The City of Ottawa will be home to a full-fledged, 40-hectare casino complex after City Council voted in favour of an ambitious proposal by private gambling operator Hard Rock Casino. The CA$318 million project includes a redevelopment of the existing Rideau Carleton Raceway on Albion Road which has been the only gambling facility in the city since 1962.
In an 18-5 vote on Wednesday, councillors approved the bylaw amendment for 4837 Albion Road in Ottawa, which permits the expansion of gaming offerings and the construction of a hotel, restaurants, and even a concert hall. Currently, the Rideau Carleton Raceway, which is operated by the US-based company Hard Rock, has 35 gaming tables and 1,250 slot machines. The property zoning caps the maximum number of tables to 55, but it does not mention how many slots would be added. Hard Rock plans to introduce another 750 slot machines, pushing the overall number to 2,000 although there are currently no limitations set by the city or the owner of the facility, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG).
The gaming expansion project for Hard Rock Casino Ottawa also includes the construction of a nine-storey hotel with 200 rooms and a 2,500-seat concert theatre. The integrated entertainment destination will also have a large parking garage, several restaurants and displays of music memorabilia, traditionally associated with the Hard Rock brand. The casino operator will invest a minimum of CA$318 million over a period of six years. According to expectations, the new large-scale complex developed on an area of 40 hectares would create nearly 900 permanent jobs in the area. In addition, around 3,100 construction jobs would be created during the renovation and construction works. Meanwhile, horse racing will continue at the facility.
During the Wednesday vote, some councillors pointed out the new, full-fledged casino would bring in more than $70 million a year to Ottawa’s economy, funds that are currently being spent at the Lac Leamy Casino in Gatineau, Quebec. However, others shared their concerns regarding the lack of a cap on slot machines and the potential problem gambling risks.
Councillors Brought Up Major Concerns
Several city councillors were clearly against the casino expansion in Rideau Carleton Raceway on Wednesday. Among them was Coun. Catherine McKenney who proposed to cap the number of slot machines for the new Hard Rock Casino Ottawa to 2,000 but the vote failed with 8-15. While councillors initially believed there was a limit for the slots approved back in 2013, city staff explained this provision was never included in the zoning papers. Although the cap is not binding, the gambling operator does not currently plan to exceed it. If more slot machines “are needed”, the casino would consult with the OLG, said Andrew Wright, director of the joint venture between Hard Rock and the raceway.
Another major concern discussed in details during the vote was how the gaming expansion would impact public health. More precisely, some councillors warned that the increased number of gaming tables and slot machines may lead to significant rise in problem gambling among the local community. Coun. Tobi Nussbaum proposed that the city should divert 2 per cent of the revenue it would receive from gaming operations at Hard Rock Casino Ottawa to problem gambling prevention.
Others, including Mayor Jim Watson, reminded that it is the province’s responsibility when it comes to addressing problem gambling in different prevention and treatment programs. The province receives the bulk of casino revenue, Watson said, adding that the city should not support the provincial government in this issue. Nussbaum’s suggestion was also rejected.