Council says yes to raceway as casino site

City council today voted to endorse the Rideau Carleton Raceway as the “only location acceptable” for an expanded gaming hall in Ottawa.

Monday’s finance and economic development committee was originally supposed to vote on whether to have Mayor Jim Watson officially ask the province for two casino sites. But on the morning of the meeting, Watson received a message from Finance Minister Charles Sousa who said the province and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation would not permit an additional zone. The committee instead voted on an alternate motion, supporting the raceway as the preferred choice for a casino location.

While the finance committee voted 10-1 in favour of the Rideau Carleton, full council tallied 16-7.

Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes had voted in favour of a casino in the past. But after the release of an Ottawa Public Health report describing the social effects of a gaming hall, she said it’s “clear we are not helping or solving the problems of the people with problems.” She voted against casino expansion because, she said, the city doesn’t have enough funding to help those already suffering from gambling problems.

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans urged council to postpone its decision until it receives more information on, for example, the economic impacts of a casino – and whether a gaming hall will drain money from the community rather than pump money into it.

Council approved a motion to recommend to the casino’s future manager that public health measures be implemented to prevent problem gambling. They include limiting hours of operation, reducing maximum bet size, and prohibiting ATMs and alcohol service on the gambling floor.

Council voted down a motion that would have seen the city allocate 6.5 per cent of its commission from the OLG annually to Ottawa Public Health to fund gambling prevention.

Watson said he would not ask the city for funds to help problem gamblers because the city does not have a responsibility to bankroll these programs. It’s the responsibility of the province, he said, which receives the lion’s share of profits from gambling.

Watson said he wants to move on from the casino debate, which has been a divisive one for councillors and the community, and tackle other upcoming issues. The budget this fall, he said, is more important than where a gaming facility should be.