No need for a casino at all, community group argues
In a note to city councillors, Watson wrote that he and Osgoode Coun. Doug Thompson think the raceway, which has had provincially sanctioned slot machines for years, deserves an automatic place on the shortlist if the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. seeks bidders. The OLG has declared it’s looking for one casino site in Ottawa, so if another bidder won the business, the slots would be removed from the horse racing track in Gloucester.
“When you consider its existing roots and deep knowledge of the Ottawa market, we hope and expect that the Rideau Carleton Raceway would put forward a very strong proposal to the OLG for consideration,” Watson wrote.
City council’s powerful finance committee, which Watson chairs, is to debate the idea of a new casino in Ottawa on Tuesday evening starting at 5 p.m. Watson said he’d put his support for the racetrack into a formal motion at the meeting. If the committee and eventually the full city council approve of the principle, the OLG will seek bidders with specific proposals.
That’s an attempt to ram a casino plan through without a proper discussion, charged Liam Mooney, a spokesman for the anti-casino group A Better Bet, which announced itself almost immediately after Watson said he’d be asking the finance committee to back a casino a week ago.
“It’ll move from a conversation about if we want a casino to an all-consuming one about where one should go,” Mooney said Monday. The city’s public-health unit, for instance, will only study the health impact of a casino — such as the damage done by gambling addiction — after city council decides it wants one.
Coun. Diane Deans, a longtime casino critic, sent her own note to city councillors Monday, saying the health unit’s head, Dr. Isra Levy, should at least be at Tuesday’s meeting to answer questions. Levy said he’d be in Montreal for meetings most of Tuesday but hoped to be back in time for the evening session.
Those are details, Mooney said; the city should tell the OLG to wait while the city considers citizens’ ideas for economic development rather than going along with the casino idea under duress. He pointed to Bill 76, an opposition measure at Queen’s Park that says 29 communities “targeted” for casinos should be required to have civic referendums on the idea before anything gets built. The bill hasn’t been approved by the legislature, though it has passed the first two out of the required three readings.
A Better Bet’s members think Watson has wanted a casino since before amalgamation and is happy to go along with Premier Dalton McGuinty and the OLG, whether it’s really a good idea or not.
“We think they’re out of ideas,” Mooney said.
As of Monday afternoon, 20 people were signed up to speak to the finance committee Tuesday evening, and Mooney said that includes people from A Better Bet. About 250 people had signed its anti-casino petition online.
The OLG’s chairman is Paul Godfrey, who is the chief executive of Postmedia Network Inc., which owns the Citizen.