The case for ‘Casino Rideau’

Michael Prentice
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It's a sure bet that the taxpayers of Ontario will benefit if Ottawa gets a large new casino in the heart of the city.

(Stock image)

There is no argument about that. Ontario is currently losing at least $100 million a year in tax revenue from gambling because people from Ottawa and the surrounding area flock to Gatineau to visit the region’s only full-fledged gambling facility at Casino du Lac-Leamy.

The question is where to put a new casino.

There may be sufficient undeveloped space adjacent to the Rideau Centre, a location that would benefit the convention centre.

But it’s unknown if Cadillac Fairview, the owners of Ottawa’s premier shopping destination, would view a casino next door as a good fit.

Furthermore, the problem with any downtown location is parking. It’s expensive. A downtown casino would be competing with the Casino du Lac-Leamy, just a few minutes’ drive away and with plentiful and free parking.

Officials at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. say they also favour a downtown location. The masterminds behind Ontario’s lucrative gambling business also say they only want one full-scale casino in Ottawa, which means any new facility would spell the end for the slot machines at Rideau Carleton Raceway.

With its southern Ottawa location, Rideau Carleton Raceway is almost certainly not the best location for a full-scale casino aimed at attracting visitors to the capital, as well as gamblers on both sides of the Ottawa River.

But it’s been able to attract a strong customer base and it offers a unique experience. Why mess with such a success story? Why not let the Rideau Carleton slots facility continue and build a full-fledged casino in downtown Ottawa?

The province’s gambling agency says it believes that Ottawa is only large enough to support one gambling location. But that’s not the same as saying no to the idea.

The Casino du Lac-Leamy and Rideau Carleton Raceway collectively attract almost five million visitors a year. Isn’t it time they had some competition from a third gambling establishment in downtown Ottawa?

Some question whether a glitzy and inviting gambling palace near the centre of the nation’s capital would be worth the social cost, as it would make it even easier for problem gamblers to squander any money they get their hands on.

For those who want to protect people from themselves, why stop at gambling? Why not have prohibition on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes? Of course, we know that would not work and would encourage widespread criminal activity.

Would a downtown casino be a net benefit for Ottawa? Or would it, as some critics suggest, turn the capital into Vegas-on-the-Rideau?

Ottawa – with or without a downtown casino – is not Las Vegas, and never will be. It’s the nation’s capital and a tourist attraction in its own right. It has glorious public buildings and museums, and many attractions. But – visitors sometimes tell us – it’s a bit dull. It’s not New York or Chicago. Or even Toronto.

A downtown casino would make Ottawa a more attractive tourist and convention destination. It’s taken us years of dilly-dallying to get a spectacular convention centre worthy of the capital. What are all those delegates to do with their spare time, especially in those months when Ottawa’s climate is awful?

Such a casino would be another major construction project comparable to the convention centre, creating countless jobs. And, once the casino opened, there would be all kinds of spinoff benefits for restaurants and businesses located nearby.

Local businesses and residents should get behind this rare opportunity to add such a significant economic generator to the nation’s capital.

Organizations: Rideau Centre, Cadillac Fairview, Ontario Lottery and Gaming

Geographic location: Ottawa, Ontario, Gatineau Las Vegas New York Chicago

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Recent comments

  • David W.
    November 12, 2012 - 12:19

    There is no obvious synergy between a downtown casino and the rest of the attractions that Ottawa's downtown has to offer. To make a simple analogy, tourists don't go to Washington DC to gamble at its casino (does it even have one?) and they don't go to Las Vegas for the culture and history. Most of the successful casinos in the region are located nearby, but not actually in a downtown area. A few examples would be: - Lac Leamy (not actually in downtown Gatineau, but with great parking and road connections) - Casino Montreal (near downtown on I'le Notre Dame, not in the core) - Thousand Islands Casino (not in downtown Kingston, easy access from the 401 and a full parking lot every time I have passed by there). - Mohawk Casino - Rideau Carleton Raceway Slots The only notable casino that people talk about in a negative light is Windsor's downtown casino which has sucked a lot of the life out of its surrounding neighbourhood (although I am sure it has pumped plenty of money into provincial coffers). To make a long story short, all of the arguments in favour of a downtown casino seem to be based on wishful thinking. Looking at real world examples, it seems like a casino adjacent to downtown in an area where nothing is going on currently would be a lot better addition to the city.

  • daniel gold
    November 02, 2012 - 10:07

    There is a depth of stupidity at the consideration of putting a Casino on Rideau street. Casinos which are suppose to be upscale establishments can't be centered on a street where there are many homeless vagrants, drug dealers, and drunk people wandering around the byward market. The only possible venue for this is Lebreton flats and as close to the water as possible. Putting a Casino on rideau street would be so third rate in what is the capital of a G8 country and a country which is increasingly seen as important and financially responsible Leave it to bureaucrats to make this kind of poor quality decision if it were to go forward

  • Marc B
    October 28, 2012 - 12:20

    None of the above - if we are to go downtown it needs to be somewhere that makes it special and offers other attractions besides gambling (otherwise leave it where it is). The Site of the old E.B. Eddy plant on Chaudiere Island is the best and it has the drawing power. We've talked in Ottawa for years about having the Chaudiere Falls more accessible what a great way to show off one of Ottawa's hidden gems. Of course, NCC or some else will mess this up.

  • Franco Falbo
    October 24, 2012 - 16:48

    The Rideau carleton Slots should remain regardless. The casino must be close to the downtown and new light rail system/downtown tunnell. let's not make the same mistake as our hockey arena in kanata which should of been downtown. A vibrant city is a vibrant Downtown Core?? Another option is the baseball stadium at Coventry Road.

  • stinger
    October 24, 2012 - 09:54

    Very few people will come to Ottawa because it has a casino. This is an entertainment business that will take money away from other entertainment businesses. In addition it has the potential to be a very bad thing for a segment of the population. I would rather have elected officials spend their energy on things that will truly improve this city. In my opinion a casino is not something that will truly improve this city.

  • Watchdog
    October 24, 2012 - 09:06

    Rideau Carleton Raceway is a perfect site for this venue.. Free parking is just one benefit. In addition, they have a racetrack which the other casino does not. In addition, there is a gold course right accross the road. Oh yes, the airport is right down the road. Whenever I drive by this Rideau Carleton, the parking lot is full. The problem for this site is that it is not well advertised and it requires a much needed face lift if it is to compete with Lac Leamy. It will also need a hotel and convention center built. The pitfall for having it at this site is that there will be nothing else around it (no bars or other restaurants) but that is not a problem. There is a very old saying, "if you build it, they will come". The last thing that a visitor to our city would want to do after a very long flight is to travel around the city looking for a place to stay. All they would have to do is to drive to Rideau Carleton, check in, have dinner at a five diamond restaurant, and gamble a bit without having to go anywhere else. Having this site down town will be a fiasco just like every other project the city has had their hand in. This city will ask one to take public transit to get to the casino. People in the area around the casion will complain about noise and light polution. They will call in the police, the city will be sued and have to pay for the compaint. Look what happened to Landsdown park when they want an event. The lights go out at eleven and everyone goes home. Gross exaggeration I know but this city is inept at planning anything. Put the Casino in a place which mitigates any risks; no, not downtown. Too expensive...

  • Don Anderson
    October 23, 2012 - 19:51

    It is a sure bet that the taxpayers of Ontario might benefit from a casino in Ottawa, but the important point is it is by no means a sure bet that the citizens of Ottawa would benefit from a casino in downtown Ottawa.The rest of the commentary is largely wishful thinking. Certainly not based on any facts related to due diligence on this proposal. The Mayor is been very careful not to publicly state a preference for a location. There is also very strong local support for maintaining gaming at the Rideau Carlton location. The Ottawa Business Journal is well aware of this and I do not think is serving the community by putting forth these the comments herein as meaningful options.