Friday, September 28, 2012

A response from the mayor - casino

I received a very prompt and complete response to my email from Jim Watson. It brought up something I didn't know which was OLG's plans to remove the slot machines from Rideau Carleton Raceway. It also indicates quite clearly that the prime motivation for a casino in Ottawa would be to stem the tide of Ottawa gamblers heading for Gatineau so that the city of Ottawa captures the associated revenue.
Based on this reasoning, I definitely understand why it would make sense for Ottawa to have a casino but I think that all of the reasons I provided in my previous post for not allowing a casino to be built in the city centre still apply.
Here is the mayor's response in full:
Good morning Grant,
Thank you for your email. I appreciate your input on this issue, and would like to take the time to personally and respectfully address some of your concerns and provide you with some key information on the matter, as it appears you do not have all the pertinent information.
First, OLG has provided Rideau Carleton Raceway with the legally required one year notice to terminate its slots agreement with RCR. I have indicated publicly that I would not want to see the RCR slots shut down in the absence of any other potential gaming decisions for the Ottawa area. RCR, in my opinion, should be able to continue to operate under its agreement with OLG until such decisions are made. In addition, last year our Council voted to allow gaming tables at RCR as an indicator of our support for the facility. I have also made it clear in the past that I think something should be done to halt the flow of dollars out of Ontario and across to the Lac Leamy Casino.
Ottawa has been identified by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) as a possible host city as it looks to modernize gaming in the province. There has been much interest in this issue, and I believe we need to set a way forward that is clear, fair and transparent. This process begins with City Council signalling its support, in principle, of a possible, new Ottawa gaming facility. This decision would not commit the City to a gaming facility, or a specific site location.
In my view, every Ottawa dollar that is spent at the Gatineau casino is a dollar lost for Ottawa taxpayers. An Ottawa gaming facility would allow us to repatriate the money currently going into Quebec roads, schools and hospitals. If a new gaming facility were to open in Ottawa, I am proposing that any new revenue generated for the City be split equally between infrastructure renewal and economic development initiatives that create jobs in Ottawa. In a time of infrastructure challenges and federal job cuts in Ottawa, we need to thoughtfully consider this opportunity.
Gaming is not new to the City and its residents, and Ottawa's experience with gaming has been generally positive. The City has had a long-standing and successful relationship with the RCR, with the slots welcoming 2 million visitors per year. Since 2000, the slots at RCR have generated over $45 million in general revenue for the City. In 2011 alone, the Slots at Racetrack program contributed $4.4 million in revenue to the City of Ottawa
At the same time, we need to fully understand the economic benefits and potential public health impacts of a gaming facility. We recognise the health impacts. That is why we are asking staff at Ottawa Public Health to provide the background and advice. It is also worth noting that OLG spends millions per year assisting with the challenges of gambling addiction. Revenues from OLG also support health care and other social spending within the province of Ontario. Today we lose the revenue across the river to Quebec, while having to deal with any potential health fallout within our own city and healthcare system.
It is important to ensure that residents have ample opportunity to provide their feedback through public delegations at committee so that when a final decision is made, we will ensure that we have all the necessary information in front of us.
To proceed with this issue, I am proposing a clear two-stage process. The first stage would begin on October 2, 2012 at the next FEDCO meeting. At that time we will consider a staff report, released on September 25, which includes a direction to staff to look at the economic benefits of a gaming facility. This October 2 FEDCO meeting will be held in the evening to make it easier for residents who work during the day to comment on the staff report.
If approved by FEDCO and subsequently by City Council on October 10, 2012, I would write a letter to the OLG to signal that the City would be supportive of a gaming facility in principle. This would not commit the City to a gaming facility, or even a site location, but it allows the OLG to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to accept bids from proponents.
The second stage would occur in 2013. It would involve the OLG coming back to the City after completion of their RFP process with a prospective proponent and location. At this time, we would receive a second set of public delegations so that residents can speak to the specific proposal and location. We would also receive the staff report requested earlier on the economic impacts of a gaming facility, and also have an opportunity to review input from staff at Ottawa Public Health.
You should note that, while this is a process driven by the OLG, Ottawa City Council holds the final approval on rezoning for a new gaming facility. It is also important to note that currently there are no sites proposed or shortlisted by the OLG. The OLG modernization process is about involving the private sector and becoming more customer-focused. A broad and competitive bidding process is likely to lead to a higher level of innovation and competition between proponents.
It is in this spirit that I think we should proceed. While some, myself included, have expressed early personal opinions about possible locations for a new or expanded gaming facility, we should not pre-judge or rule out any locations or areas until we receive a final proposal from the OLG. I will be encouraging Council to allow the OLG to work with proponents who have the expertise and market depth to identify options for Ottawa that are most likely to lead to long-term success. We should see what the best proposal is and make an informed decision when the time comes.
Along these lines, I also want to recognize the long-standing, positive relationship we have had with the Rideau Carleton Raceway (RCR). We all recognize the importance of the Raceway to the local economy. I will be calling on City Council to encourage the OLG to run a fair, competitive process that provides all proponents, including the RCR, an opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Further, I will be proposing that Council ask the OLG to consider providing an opportunity for the RCR to be pre-qualified to take part in the final bidding process, given their strong record of success in the Ottawa region.
Another gaming option is about 6 km from the Ottawa downtown core - the Gatineau casino. Industry experts suggest that a majority of the Gatineau casino’s revenues comes from Ottawa residents – revenues that the City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario do not benefit from. These economic benefits, driven by Ottawa residents, instead accrue to the Province of Quebec. They use this money to invest in roads, hospitals and schools – while the City of Ottawa wrestles with tough decisions about infrastructure renewal and feels the effects of federal job cuts.
Ottawa residents enjoy easy access to these two facilities, but also have smaller-scale gaming options right in their neighbourhoods. This includes charity and church bingo fundraisers, as well as lottery tickets sold in most convenience stores. Given these existing gaming options, a new Ottawa gaming facility would not be a big change from what our residents are used to.  However, the difference would be that the City of Ottawa would receive new revenues that would be earmarked for investments in infrastructure renewal and economic development initiatives that create jobs in Ottawa.
In March 2011, Council’s solid vote (20-3) in favour of adding gaming tables at the RCR underscored Council’s desire to provide residents with a broader range of quality gaming services. The decision was made with the goal of generating more revenue for the City of Ottawa derived from that which is currently crossing the river to Quebec. My discussions with Council colleagues indicate that the vast majority of members of Council do not favour holding a divisive referendum on the issue of gaming. Instead, we should let the best proposal come forward based on industry expert opinion and make a decision, as we are elected to do on many issues each and every day.
I recognize that the idea of expanding gaming in the City of Ottawa may not be met with unanimity, but I also believe that given our City’s positive experience with gaming, residents would support a modest expansion of gaming in Ottawa. I also believe that at the end of the day, individual residents are best able to decide whether or not they want to use a gaming facility in our community – it really comes down to an issue of personal choice.
Again, I thank you for sharing yours with me as it is always welcome.
Jim Watson
City of Ottawa

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