Ottawa city council voted in favour of signalling to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation its interest in a casino, but many councillors expressed frustration with OLG and the rules it has established for the process.
OLG may have as many as five groups bidding for a casino in the Ottawa area, but the provincial gaming corporation won’t identify the private operators or the locations being discussed.
Instead, OLG will present the city with its preferred candidate at its preferred location, and leave it up to the city to decide whether it is interested in pursuing the plan.
Many councillors said they were unhappy with OLG’s “take it or leave it” approach.
OLG’s new contribution agreement calls for any city with a casino to receive 5.25 per cent on the first $65 million of net slot machine revenue, three per cent on the next $135 million, 2.5 per cent on the next $300 million and 0.5 per cent on any remaining net slot revenue.
The city said revenues from slots would be $196 million — based on OLG’s expectations that they would be 40 per cent more than what Rideau Carleton Raceway currently brings in.
Based on that estimate, the city would expect to receive about $7.3 million per year.
- is 0.2 per cent of the city’s budget of $3.7 billion this year,
- is enough money to buy seven double decker buses,
- would pay for a quarter of the road and sewer project taking place on Bronson Avenue,
- is about half what parking fees bring in each year.
Some on city council, like Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes, questioned during Wednesday’s debate whether the money coming to the city should a new casino open was worth it.
Mayor Jim Watson said even a few million dollars for the city is significant.
He said the casino will also bring jobs to the region.
“It’s not the panacea for all our woes but it has helped in terms of job creation in other cities and has brought new revenue streams into the community,” he said.
‘They haven’t come in as an honest broker’
Coun. Mark Taylor likened the process to “negotiating with a gun to your head.”
“The way they’ve structured this process is very antagonistic,” said Taylor. “My perspective is, they haven’t come in as an honest broker.”
Other councillors expressed concern over whether the money the city would get from a casino would be worth the social costs and whether they had enough information to make an informed decision. But councillors, including Taylor, voted in favour of going ahead with the process by a 19 to 5 margin.
Councillors Tim Tierney, Scott Moffatt, Diane Deans, Mathieu Fleury and David Chernushenko voted against the motion.
“It’s heavy handed,” said councillor Tierney. “And it’s basically just short of blackmail by not allowing us decisions on what we want to do with our city.”
Rideau Carleton’s future questioned
Some councillors expressed hope the motion would improve the chances of keeping Rideau Carleton Raceway open and in the running as an option for OLG.
The motion includes language directing Mayor Jim Watson to write OLG to let them know that the city would like the raceway to be given special consideration and to be pre-approved for OLG’s shortlist of potential operators.
But Coun. Scott Moffatt said OLG has given no indication it would respect that wish.
“It’s not a done deal, they still have to go through some process. But the reality is they’re going to come back with one option and publicly they’ve said they want it downtown,” said Moffatt.
Watson reminded councillors that if the city doesn’t like the casino plan OLG comes back with, the city can always take a pass on the project.
“It’s not the common practice in an RFP [request for proposals] to have a contest … they will recommend one group and the city if it’s not happy with that bid, we’ll vote it down.”
As part of the motion, council also moved to direct city staff to look into the economic and social impact of having a casino operate in the city.