Ottawa’s Rideau Carleton Raceway slots privatization bid to soon have a winner

OLG to announce successful applicant this spring; raceway operators in the running
Rideau Carleton Raceway

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s drive to find a private operator for the Rideau Carleton Raceway casino is heading closer to the finish line, with the agency expected to announce this spring who will take over the facility from the province.

OLG spokesman Tony Bitonti said earlier this month the winning bidder will be chosen from a short list of up to five contenders, all of whom were approved in a pre-qualification process that began last June and closed in October. He would not reveal exactly how many groups submitted final proposals and said a firm date has not been set for an official announcement.

“There are a lot of sensitivities,” he said. “All of these companies know who they are bidding against because it’s a small community.”

This spring’s announcement will be the culmination of a process that began in 2010, when the province asked OLG to launch a comprehensive review of Ontario’s lottery and gaming network. The agency originally issued a request for pre-qualifications in November 2012 but did not issue an official request for proposals – the final stage before it decides on a private gaming operator.

A number of hurdles delayed the privatization plan, including the provincial election in 2014 as well as labour strife involving the horse track’s slots workers and the need to sign off on a new lease at the facility.

The OLG cancelled another request for pre-qualifications in late 2015 because it wanted a new lease in place before going ahead with the tendering process. City council said in 2013 it wouldn’t support a casino at any other site, a position the OLG has agreed to honour.

The city, which receives a cut of revenue from the Rideau Carleton facility, has said it wants no more than 21 new gaming tables added to the 1,250 slot machines already at the site.

Under the current arrangement, the city receives 5.25 per cent of the first $65 million of net annual slot revenues, with its share declining on subsequent amounts. On average, the city receives about $5 million a year from OLG for its share of the facility’s slots revenues.

The private firm chosen to run the facility will be responsible for the casino’s day-to-day operations – including the funding of any renovations or new gaming offerings – and will take over the lease from the OLG. The city must approve any changes to the number of slot machines or gaming tables allowed at the site.

Mr. Bitonti said the province – which brings in about $2 billion a year in profits from casinos and lotteries – believes private operators are better equipped to maximize returns from Ontario’s 24 gaming facilities.

Under the new plan, the province will still get a significant portion of casino revenues but will no longer have to sink taxpayer dollars into capital expenditures such as maintenance and renovations, Mr. Bitonti explained.

“Through modernization, the goal is really to increase the net profit to the province,” he said.

The OLG says on its website the plan will allow the agency “to focus on its conduct and (management) role – maximizing the province’s return and ensuring Ontario’s Responsible Gambling standards are upheld.”

Rideau Carleton Raceway marketing manager Audree Vachon said the race track itself is among the private operators that have submitted a bid to run the casino but would not offer any details about its submission.

“We’re very optimistic and excited about the outcome,” she said. “Any way it goes, it’s going to be positive.”