Hard Rock Casino Ottawa gets Sneaky over Table Game Expansion

City council is irate after Hard Rock Casino, manager of the Ottawa casino at Rideau Carlton Raceway, made an “unconscionable” and “sneaky” appeal for new table games.

Hard Rock Casino Ottawa Requests New Table GamesThe Rideau Carlton Raceway in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada has been a major hub for harness racing since it first opened its doors in 1962. In 2000, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) issued the property a licence to operate slot machines. By 2013, the number of casino games had risen to over 1,200, including 21 table games.

That year, the Ottawa City Council passed a motion that declared the number of table games would not exceed the current total of 21. Any call for expansion would require studies and public consultation on its effects on the community, including traffic and transportation. Council members re-iterated that stance several times over the last four years.

The most recent recapitulation took place at a council meeting in early September. That was when they stamped their approval on the OLG’s choice of Hard Rock Casino to take over the day-to-day managerial operations of the Ottawa casino.

Assured that their wishes would be upheld, the council moved forward with confidence, welcoming Hard Rock as the new operator. But now, barely a month after taking over Rideau Carlton Raceway, council members are shocked by what some are calling an “unconscionable” and “sneaky approach” to expanding the number of games on the casino floor.

Sneaky Appeal for New Table Games

Instead of taking the standard approach of appealing to the city council for approval, Hard Rock submitted an application for gaming expansion to the committee of adjustments. This quai-judicial committee is designed to handle minor alterations to zoning laws. As such, its meetings and decisions are rarely subject to the scrutiny of the public.

The current number of table games is restricted to 21 by a zoning by-law. This gives Rideau Carlton Raceway the option to submit its application to the lesser committee. However, the committee could choose not to hear the case if it decides the adjustment is not “minor in nature”.

67% Increase In Tables a “Minor Variance”?

The Ottawa casino is asking to increase the number of table games from 21 to 35. That is a 67% increase in table games. Hard Rock Casino calls this a “minor variance”. City Councilor Diane Deans, who moved the motion back in 2013, disagrees wholeheartedly.

“This is a heaping helping of bad faith is what I think this is,” said Deans. “Now what we’re seeing is this back-door, sneaky approach to expanding gaming without public scrutiny or even council scrutiny.”

Deans was informed by city staff that the planning staff not only knew of the Raceway’s intent to apply for new gaming tables, they also said they view the increase as “minor in nature”.

“But it is not at all what council passed, it’s not what we anticipate, it’s not what we directed,” argued Deans. “I just find it unconscionable.”

OLG Yet to Hear From Hard Rock Casino

As it turns out, the OLG was just as surprised by the news as Ottawa City Council. The regulator of all gambling activities in Ontario, OLG must stamp its approval on any application for gambling expansion before it can take place.

In an emailed statement to CBC, the regulator confirmed that Ottawa “passed a positive resolution to allow up to 21 live table games at the current site.” OLG went on to establish that, “before Hard Rock Casino Ottawa can add table games to the site, it must present a business case to OLG and receive required municipal and provincial approvals.”

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