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Is Ottawa Ready To Roll The Dice On A Downtown Casino?

By Eva Morin on July 27, 2012

In March of this year, talks of bringing a casino within Ottawa city limits were back on the table after the Ontario government announced a decision to begin accepting private-sector bids for the establishment. The news made headlines, and it seemed like everyone had an opinion on the whereabouts of the casino and if having one in Ottawa was even a good idea. Five months later, these ambitious plans are at a standstill. No concrete information on the project has been released to the public, and sites for the casino are all based on speculation. Recently, a group called Friends of Downtown Ottawa called for a referendum on the issue after the idea of converting the Old Jail House on Nicholas Street to a casino became an option. Unfortunately, Friends of Downtown Ottawa were not available for comment for this article.

The rumors surrounding this issue are enough to make your head spin and without any legitimate information coming from the Ontario Government or the OLG, it’s almost impossible to take an informed stance. Here is a brief round-up of what we know so far, and how a casino could potentially impact our city.

The Good

There are a few obvious advantages of building a casino in Ottawa. The construction of the casino would be funded by the private sector, leaving taxpayers breathing a sigh of relief throughout the lengthy endeavor. Additionally, a new casino would bring plenty of job opportunities which would especially benefit young students and graduates feeling the effects of the weak job market. The tourism aspect is perhaps the most fruitful, as the casino could attract a different type of tourist, directed towards a more adult demographic.

The Bad

The obvious arguments are that bringing a casino would increase crime rates and would encourage individuals at risk of gambling addiction. While these arguments aren’t without merit, one could argue that gambling is easily accessible in the comfort of our own home and that there is no concrete proof that casinos attract higher crime concentrations. When looking at our neighbours in Hull and their non-problem regarding casino-related crimes, it’s safe to assume that gaming facilities do not directly influence the matter.

The (Potentially) Ugly

If a downtown site is chosen for the project, residents can expect at least two years of construction ahead. This, coupled with the already frustrating work being done on Rideau Street, will turn the downtown core into, quite frankly, a mess. While the end results may be worth it, two years of reroutes and traffic jams might cause more harm than good.

Location, Location, Location


The choice of Kanata as the site of the new casino is confusing at best. While it houses the Scotiabank Centre and has many hotels to accommodate tourists, it is far removed from the city centre and its attractions. Not to mention traffic problems that already plagues the suburb. Furthermore, a casino located in Kanata would only attract a specific geographic demographic, and residents of downtown and the east region would most likely continue to flock to the Casino du Lac Leamy.

Sparks Street

Sparks Street has been a ghost town for long time, and a casino would definitely be a way to spruce things up. The downtown location is an obvious upside, and the pedestrian road could create an intimate gaming experience nestled among the otherwise busy city centre. Sparks Street seems like a win-win, but could receive some flack for turning the historical and cultural heart of our city into a one-stop shop for boozing and gambling.

Old Jail House

The plans to use the old Jail House on Nicholas Street for the casino have recently been made public, largely thanks to the Friends of Downtown Ottawa. The site would possess the same downtown appeal as Sparks Street, but its proximity to the University of Ottawa and awkward disposition on busy intersections could potentially be some downfalls.

My Two Cents

I’m not going to lie, I enjoy going to the Casino du Lac Leamy once in a while to sip on an overpriced martini and try my hand at black jack. However, I’m not sure if a casino would fit in Ottawa. Personally, I would like to see the Rideau-Carleton Raceway revamped as a modern gaming facility in order to breathe new life into the slowly forgotten establishment. Shuttle services offered from the city centre, the installation of gaming tables, and an entertainment centre to host various live acts would allow the Raceway to become Ottawa’s premier, and only, gambling facility. Ottawa is a culturally rich city continually developing for the better, why bring a flashy and unnecessary casino into the equation?