Debate over gambling impacts looming
Despite the best efforts of a handful of councillors, the major debate over whether the city should allow expanded gambling was put off—for now.
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A looming debate over the merits of expanded gambling in Ottawa is beginning to develop, as council was asked to reaffirm the decision to hand the keys of the Rideau Carleton Raceway over to Hard Rock Ottawa on Wednesday.
Council was only being asked to approve a technical requirement that the province mandates in order to transfer operations to Hard Rock. But as this was the first vote that this term of council has made on the issue of gambling, several councillors took the opportunity to try to shoehorn in discussions of the impact that gambling has on public health.
Councillors Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney, Tobi Nussbaum, and Diane Deans all raised the issue that Wednesday’s vote was taking place without substantial information from Ottawa Public Health, who in a 2013 report outlined the social impacts caused by problem gambling.
“The opportunity is before us to say no to expanded gambling,” said Coun. Jeff Leiper, adding that he did not “feel personally bound” by the previous council’s decision to approve expanded gambling.
While a substantive debate was shut down on Wednesday (principally because the narrow definition of what council was considering left it off the table), it seems clear that when Hard Rock submits their official proposal for expanded gaming at the Rideau Carleton Raceway, that there will be stiff opposition from council’s progressive wing.
Mayor Jim Watson dismissed the idea that the city had any role to play in providing support for problem gambling. “I don’t believe the City of Ottawa, or any city in Ontario, should take that responsibility away from the province,” he said. “They should be responsible for that.”