Sparks Street a possibility for casino

By Jill Renaud
The chips are down and the dice will be ready to roll as early as next spring at two new charity casinos in the Ottawa region.

The Ontario alcohol and gaming commission announced Sept. 26 the names of two gaming companies which will operate permanent casinos in the Ottawa region.

The casinos will be about one-tenth the size of the Hull casino and limited to 150 video lotteries and 40 table games. Locations for the casino are yet to be announced but many are betting that at least one of the casinos will be in downtown Ottawa.

“We believe one of the casinos must be placed in the downtown area,” says Willy Bagnell, president of the Ottawa-Carleton Board of Trade.

He says that potential locations such as Sparks and Rideau Streets are ideal because of the close proximity to hotels and other tourist attractions.

“The Hull casino is a tremendous facility, but the fact is that it is not in the downtown of Ottawa and geography works against it,” says Bagnell.

He says the other casino should go where it has the greatest economic impact, whether it is Nepean, Gloucester, Ottawa South or some other area.

One of the companies, Star of Fortune Management, is a newly formed Toronto-based group that is owned and operated by Canadian business and gaming experts. The other competing casino will be operated by Carnival Hotels and Casinos Corp. (CHC), a U.S.-based conglomerate, which bills itself as the world’s largest cruise corporation and North America’s leading casino and hotel operator. The company also operates Casino Rama in Orillia and the Casino Rouge riverboat in Louisiana.

The charity casinos are slated to replace three-day roving Monte Carlo gambling events and are expected to provide $180 million annually to charitable organizations. Under the current system charities receive about $10 million a year from charity casinos.

Ottawa Mayor Jacquelin Holzman hopes both casinos will be located in Ottawa. She has been in contact with both groups and says CHC has already expressed interest in the downtown area.

“My understanding is that Carnival tours is definitely going to be in the city of Ottawa,” says Holzman.
CHC is not a new player in the Ottawa area. The company was invited by the city of Ottawa to study the feasibility of a charity casino in the early 1990s. CHC proposed to construct a permanent charity casino on Sparks Street and was turned down by the province. But there is speculation the company is still interested in the street.

“Four or five years ago, when they were first looking, they decided that was the best location,” says Holzman.

She added that the city supported a Sparks Street charity casino several years ago.

Ken Dale, of the Sparks Street Improvement Area, says some landlords from the street have already contacted the companies with potential sites, but declined to reveal which ones.

Other potential locations include the Rideau-Carleton Raceway in Gloucester and the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park.

The other company, Star of Fortune Management, is new to the region and is beginning to look at potential locations.

“We were precluded from looking at locations until the final announcement was made,” says company spokesperson Barbara Fox.

However, she says the company has received many suggestions from landlords, community groups, and municipalities in the region.

“Right now we have no preferred site,” says Fox.

Once sites are chosen, the companies operating the new casinos will not only have to compete with each other, but also with the Hull casino.

“Any competition is desirable,” says Holzman.

The casinos will be part of 44 charity gaming clubs in Ontario which are expected to gross $1 billion annually. The provincial government hopes to skim $250 million a year off the proceeds.