Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa Unsettles City Council
The Ottawa Citizen reports that a proposal to update and upgrade the old Rideau Carleton Raceway horse track and betting parlour has city council running in different directions. Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has signed a deal with Hard Rock International to run the new gambling den in south Ottawa.
Ordinarily, announcing $320 million in investment dollars has elected sock puppets fighting over the ribbon-cutting scissors. In this case, the moral taint of gambling seems to have shaken some councillors like a pair of aces on the river.
Of course Ottawa Senators‘ owner Eugene Melnyk is still fuming over the curt dismissal of his $500M proposal to put a casino on the outskirts of nowhere, (aka Kanata ON). Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans has a different complaint: “I think it’s a problem that the government is addicted to gambling money”.
Her objections are partly the classic “NIMBY” complaints about traffic but she adds a moral twist: people suffer from gambling addiction. Why add to their woes by providing them with a slick palace of music and food to go with it? In 2013 city council considered an Ottawa Public Health report urging gambling be restricted. The report recommended there be no ATM’s on the gambling floor or booze service. The casino should restrict maximum bet sizes and limit daily losses. Troubled punters would have to self-exclude and have personal monthly statements issued. There should be no casino loyalty programs.
The issue of not having gambling never came up. It was only a question of how much.
OLG, Ontario’s lottery “watchdog” and, of course, government corporation in charge of raking in the dough, claimed to share the city’s concern about problem gambling. So concerned in fact that they included none of these recommendations in the 20 year contract with Hard Rock International. I don’t blame HRI of course, they are in the business of creating entertainment destinations. Can’t even blame OLG really. Elected politicians mandate the organization to bring home the bacon and it does. Are thousands of lives ruined in the process? So? Didn’t OLG tell you gambling is just for “fun”?
Councillor Dean didn’t specify which government is addicted to gambling money but she didn’t have to. They all are. Originally, city council got OLG to agree to a limit of 1,251 slot machines and 21 gaming tables at Rideau Carleton. Perhaps they felt limiting supply would keep the weak-willed from putting their families in hock. However, OLG is not the only game in town.
Across the Ottawa River is the Casino Lac Leamy gambling den hosted by Government monopoly Loto-Quebec. It has 1,800 slots machines and 65 tables and no doubt pulls hundreds of millions of dollars that can otherwise be sucked up in Ottawa.
River Councillor Riley Brockington apparently believes the OLG “should blow it wide open.” He expressed concern for dollars leaving Ottawa for Quebec. (I’m guessing he’s not counting “equalization payments” that flow to La Belle Province in prodigious amounts!). According to the Ottawa Citizen this was “his main motivation when considering the casino, not the financial benefit for city coffers”.
But why not? Ottawa stands to gain millions of dollars while a multi-national corporation takes all the risks. Why not roll the dice? After all, some of the broken homes will be in other cities!
Easy Money’s Hard Trail
I’m a conservative by nature and see free enterprise conferring great benefits on humankind. Hard Rock is free enterprise at it’s best: food, drink, entertainment. Glitzy ballrooms and shiny baubles are what the rubes demand and what HRI supplies. Grow your company from an idea to a shiny steel and glass palace and bring jobs to your town and wealth to your investors. It’s just as much a North American dream as…well, winning a lottery.
Of course, money isn’t everything and ill-gotten gains, though welcomed at any bank, have unintended consequences. Problem gambling is defined as an activity that destroys one’s credit, causes one’s family to suffer and undermines one’s fiscal and mental health. But are the signs always so visible? Are not all gamblers touched by the same disease? No matter how innocently we portray our weekly ticket or two, or occasional trip to a casino, are we not all infected with the idea of easy money?
Our politicians and bureaucrats cast about for ways to feed insatiable Leviathan (i.e. Big Government), while citizens struggle to keep some income for themselves. In Ontario a hated government raises utility bills, employment fees, excises and income taxes while dispensing billions of dollars to hide their abject incompetence, (e.g. “green energy”). Can we afford to give these people access to easy money? Oh yeah. That’s right, they just take it.
But I can’t be the only one who buys lottery tickets with similar motivation. I have bills to pay and desires to fulfill. I want to make my family happier. If only there was a way to pocket some extra bucks that didn’t require any effort.
Sorry, there isn’t one. Gambling takes now or later but the house always wins.
So would it be easier to fold our cards and all agree that gambling should go back under the rock from whence it came? Let’s drop the nagging urgency of easy money and go back to working for a living and balancing our budgets. Of course we don’t all agree gambling hurts us in particular. Five bucks per week isn’t exactly “reefer madness”. As for politicians living within their (our) means….
The horsemen who ply their trade on the track at Rideau-Carleton are familiar with an old saying: “closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.”
Good luck to Diane Deans trying to rein in this galloping horse. Good luck to Riley Brockington trying to bring benefits to Ottawa. Finally, good luck Hard Rock. After all, Ottawa is known as “the town that fun forgot”.
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