We Salute You…!
Seems Ottawa City Council wants to greet the Hard Rock casino project with a single finger however! As reported in my May 23, 2017 post, (“Between a Hard Rock and a Lucky Place”), the OLG/Hard Rock International deal to rebuild the Rideau Carleton casino continues to vex local politicians. In a pair of Ottawa Citizen articles, columnist David Reevely lays out how the Big Boys are bulldozing local opposition. Absent the poor sheep ranchers and hired gunslingers it is otherwise a classic Western story. The railroads a-comin’ through yer land and ain’t nothin’ you can do about it!
On November 8 Reevely wrote HRI was using the “committee of adjustment” to request more gaming tables. The committee usually deals with builders and homeowners seeking minor variances within their lot lines. According to Reevely, HRI is trying to flout Council’s original effort to restrict the scope of any gambling mecca. Council set a limit of 21 gaming tables and no inducements for mommy or daddy to blow the kid’s college fund. HRI is working on a $320 million investment and wants a few more tables. Reevely obviously sees this as the proverbial foot-in-the-door. From there, what fresh hell can the entertainment corporation visit on poor benighted Ottawa? Free booze? Prostitution? Donkey Kong slot machines?
In Ottawa developers routinely propose 15-story buildings that become 25-story buildings after approvals. They usually go before the Ontario Municipal Board to get variances on their plans. Neighbours complain; a compromise appears, and clever developers end up with more than they first ask for. If you have a 22-story condo tower shading your backyard you know how the process works. Quite frankly, if I was going to pour millions into a risky venture I would maximise revenues too. Using the committee of adjustment looks a bit sneaky on the surface, but HRI is trying to make its $320M bet a winner. Since there are no moral arguments against gambling left, why quibble over 21 tables versus 35?
“For What You are About to Receive…”
Like in the Western movie however the gunslinger answers to a bigger boss. Four days later Reevely writes it seems like HRI isn’t calling its own shots. Quoting a release from HRI’s PR agent, Reevely says the company needs more tables “…to meet its financial obligations to OLG.” He reports that OLG has been offering assurances to Council since 2013 that the government gambling monopoly would respect the “municipal decision-making process”. Supposedly, OLG only wants willing municipal partners. ‘You say 21 tables,’ (city had to be cajoled into accepting any!), ‘we say fine; 35 it is!’ Wait…what?
Reevely quotes an OLG spokesman who seems to pass the buck right back again. According to him, “…OLG does not prescribe the process for which service providers engage municipalities.” In other words, ‘because we want a big cut from Hard Rock, they have to amp up operations to make any money. Therefore it’s up to them to fix agreements to make it happen’. Cue sound of hands being brushed ‘clean’.
Things may not be quite so dramatic but we don’t know because the OLG/Hard Rock agreement is not public. OLG’s mandate is to maximise returns for their lone shareholder, the government of Ontario. (This used to mean ‘the taxpayers of Ontario’ but let’s not kid ourselves!). As such they operate the same way they urge lottery ticket purchasers: Dream Big! In time more gambling will seem perfectly normal.
City councils tend to be clumsy little cliques of amateur politicians with small staffs. Consequently, the “bigger picture” of federal or provincial politics may elude them. Until they learn what side their bread is buttered on they have to be hand-held and nose-led to the trough. “It’s gambling billion$$ people! Wake up!”
Hard Rock has a reputation to uphold as a lucrative, entertainment supplier. They have to make nice with anybody who can hamper operations and hope higher-ups can deal with roadblocks. Personally, I am all for a massive destination hotel and gambling palace. I won’t actually go there because slot machines seem to hoover money out of one’s paw much faster than picking out single tickets. Nevertheless jobs from building and running the place will ‘stimulate’ the economy. (HRI is already running ads for dealers). Very soon the locals will tire of the novelty and be replaced by out-of-towners.
My bet is Hard Rock will be hard pressed to fill the pews. Rideau Carleton is like everything else in this town: too small, too remote and greeted at the outset with sour faces and bitter comments.
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