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.
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.