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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?

  • Andrew Wallnut

    A better choice would be Chinatown, which has suffered from the competition offered by chain Asian markets like T&T. Chinese cultures have a long tradition of gambling and putting a casino on Somerset would encourage Chinese tourism.

  • Stephan

    The jobs are unfortunately low-paying, so I’m not sure how much it would help on that front.

    In terms of “revitalizing” neighbourhoods – casinos are typically built to keep the light out to keep gamblers gambling, and are therefore devoid of windows – meaning they won’t do much to bring life to a streetscape.

    A thoughtful piece here by Florida:–casino-a-bad-bet-for-toronto

  • Alex Lougheed

    Casinos are built as insular buildings. They bring you in, to disorient you and have you never leave. This is why there are no clocks, why you can get to the hotel without going outside and why there are no windows.

    Putting one in a central Downtown location will have the opposite effect of “revitalizing” a neighbourhood. Look at how vibrant the area around Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax, the River Rock in Richmond or the Edgewater in Vancouver are. Blight.

    TVO did a piece on this very topic. “If a Casino, Where a Casino.” It’s well worth a listen:

    The country will probably have something to say about a casino 5 minutes from the Parliament of Canada. SAW Gallery/Club SAW/Mugshots at the Jail Hostel are some of the few genuine cultural gems of this town.

  • Lynn

    No thanks, building any economic activity on gambling is a non-starter and a real sign of lack of leadership and imagination for a city.

    The percentage of folks in a community who can’t handle gambling gets bigger over time, especially in economic hard times and yes the wages paid to the workers and the working conditions are quite lousy.

    I’d much rather see something more substantive developed that would give folks a real job with a decent income, add some meaningful activity to the city and not exploit the local population in order for a very few to make lots of money.

  • Ryan

    A casino in the capital would be a national embarrassment. I’ve lived in cities that have built casinos for economic gain and the social costs far out weigh any economic advantage.

  • Tyler

    Terrible idea to build such an establishment right in the heart of the city. I would disagree w/ the author and say Kanata may actually be the better location for a casino, right next to the Brookstreet Hotel.

  • ace

    While a casino would not be my first choice to assist a weak job market, it may be good opportunity to finally push the NCC to develop Lebreton Flats into something viable. That site has suffered for too long and would be a welcome change to that broken ass sign on the corner and the ordinary pedestrian housing development on a dirt patch.
    The only thing worse would be to put a casino in Kanata…

  • Casino would be an excellent idea. This city needs to do more to capture revenues that are going over to the Quebec side and while the jobs may be low paying, they’re jobs nonetheless. It also has implications for tech and entertainment sector as local companies may be able to sell technology to the casino.

    Also, casinos are fun. There needs to be more attractions in the downtown core. Restaurants and bars are great, but there isn’t even a decent movie theater downtown (no Imax).

    While they’re at it, tear down the Scotiabank Place and rebuild it on Lebreton Flats. Nobody likes driving to a hockey game or concert.

  • I think it’s been shown that while Casino’s do generate modest jobs with even more modest wages, the surrounding areas wither. Casino’s are designed to pull money OUT of your pockets. They aren’t designed to generate and contribute to the local economy. This is why the Hull Casino is great. It is relatively isolated. The potential damage is causes to the immediate surroundings is constrained. It is unfortunate that revenue distribution is skewed such that Ottawa as a community is losing revenue, however, this, to me at least, is a legislative/agreement issue. It can easily be remedied by making the right decisions.