A $318 million Hard Rock casino construction project at the Rideau Carleton Raceway will begin this summer, including an eight-story hotel, a concert venue capable of seating up to 2,500 spectators, and 20 new casino gaming tables.
The multi-million dollar expansion project includes a large casino floor, and the addition of gaming tables have raised concerns among five Canadian councillors about the impact these offerings may have on gambling addiction rates in Ottawa.
Although the city already regulates how many gaming tables each local casino can offer, there is no maximum limit on the number of slot machines that can be installed at a venue. Councillors believed that they had placed a limit on slot machines back in 2013, but it has become clear that the law was never included in the casino zoning bylaws, and was thus not included in Canadian legislature.
According to Councillor Catherine McKenney, it is clear that the new slots and gaming tables will have an impact, particularly on older adults and seniors in the local community. She expressed concerns about this, suggested a cap on the number of slots at the casino at 2,000. Unfortunately, McKenney lost the vote for this move by 8-15.
Councillor Eli El Chantiry expressed a different view, telling his fellow lawmakers to ‘stop being a nanny state’. Mayor Jim Watson, however, feels that regulating local gambling is the responsibility of a provincial government, and should remain that way. Watson voted against the 2,000 slot machine cap plan for the expanded casino.
Hard Rock has informed the Ottawan rural affairs committee that it has no plans to expand its gambling offering beyond its most recent proposal, at least for the next few decades. Council then passed a motion ensuring that the casino had to obtain permission in order to add any more gaming tables to its floor in the future.
When it comes to slots expansions, the casino will work alongside the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation if it feels that more machines are required. In the meantime, the Ottawa Public Health organisation has written up a plan in reaction to the expansion in an attempt to deal with any potential gambling addiction issues in connection with the project.
OPH has asked the Ontario government for $150,000 in once-off funding, as well as $200,000 per annum, to carry out the plan. They aim to launch a campaign to prevent gambling addiction before it starts, as well as ensuring that addicts have access to the treatment they need. Councillor Tobi Nussbaum suggested the diversion of 2% of the increased revenue Ottawa will receive from the casino expansion to be put towards the problem gambling ban, but his idea was thrown out in a 5-18 vote.