In a startling about-face on his position regarding casino expansion, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson issued a statement on Monday supporting Rideau Carleton Raceway as his preferred location for casino development in the nation's capital.
For months, Watson had solidly supported a downtown location for a casino in Ottawa but stated in a letter to council on Monday that "it was becoming increasingly clear that there would be no future role for the RCR given the OLG’s most recent position" and he did not want to jeopardize the future of the track with such a decision.
Watson's full email to Council follows.
Dear Council colleague,
I am writing to you to let you know that I will table a notice of motion at tomorrow’s FEDCO meeting related to the City’s ongoing discussions with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG).
In this motion, to be considered at the July meeting, I will propose that the City identify the Rideau Carleton Raceway (RCR) as the only acceptable location for an expanded gaming facility in Ottawa.
On April 29, I wrote to the OLG reaffirming Council’s support for maintaining OLG slots at the RCR. I asked that the City, given its immense geographic area, its large regional market and its growing appeal as a national and international tourism destination, be given the opportunity to establish an expanded gaming facility as well as a satellite operation within the same municipality. In May, the OLG responded that only one gaming site would be permitted within each zone, and that the OLG’s current mandate does not address satellite sites. Notwithstanding this claim, the Woodbine slots in the City of Toronto were treated differently as Woodbine was considered a separate gaming zone under the OLG’s modernization process.
Further, on May 28, the OLG wrote to the City Manager: “if the City has indicated location preferences, OLG will ensure that potential service providers understand those wishes” and “municipalities will have a say in many of the aspects of the development including location.”
The City of Ottawa has a long-standing, positive relationship with the RCR and our Council has been consistent in recognizing this. This began with our motion in March 2011 to ask the province to add table games to the facility on a pilot basis. We continued this by supporting Councillor Thompson’s motion in October 2012 to ensure the RCR had a fair opportunity to put a bid forward and compete on level playing field.
It was becoming increasingly clear that there would be no future role for the RCR given the OLG’s most recent position. Therefore, I do not believe we should jeopardize the Rideau Carleton Raceway operation by not being crystal clear to the OLG prior to the start of its RFP process.
I believe that being clear about our Council’s and community’s preferences at this stage in the process will ensure we get the best deal possible for Ottawa. Identifying the RCR as the City’s only acceptable location will allow potential operators to propose ways to build on the success of the existing facility and bring larger economic benefits to the City, while responding to community concerns.
As always, there will be opportunities for public engagement on this issue. Between now and the July FEDCO meeting, residents will be encouraged to write to the City Clerk with their thoughts on this proposal. They can also attend the July meeting in person, where public delegations on this matter will be heard.
In closing, I want to thank ward Councillor Thompson as well as Councillor Tierney for their very helpful counsel on this file.
Jim Watson, Mayor
City of Ottawa
Upon reading the letter, area MPP and fervent supporter of Rideau Carleton Lisa MacLeod issued a statement noting that Watson's email was "music to her ears."
“It has been a tough year for my constituents who are involved in horse racing. With the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program and the possibility of a downtown Ottawa casino our spirits were low at times," said MacLeod. "I am overjoyed that our Council will see the merits in supporting 1,000 Nepean-Carleton jobs, predominantly in our rural area.
“I want to especially thank Councillors Tierney, Moffatt and Thompson for always working with me and our local horseman to save the track. We still have a few hurdles to clear but I am confident we will overcome them.”