Rideau – Carleton Raceway

Without question the way this mayor and Council handled the Rideau – Carleton Raceway issue was an exercise of “complete incompetence”. To this day, everyone wonders what Jim Watson’s motive was to rush through decisions on this issue. Watson led his “Council of bobbleheads” around by the nose merely to arrive back to the point they were at the start. The only explanation that could be possible is that, from the onset of this process, he was making every effort to please his Liberal government “masters”.


Back in March 2011, Council voted in support of a two-year pilot project to allow 21 gaming tables at the Rideau – Carleton Raceway. [1] (See Committee June 16, 2011)

Then, early in 2012, the Liberal McGuinty government through the OLG, decided to revoke the “racetrack slots” program which had been in operation for several years. It was decided that the program which had been in place to help the horse racing industry and provided 10% of the profits from slots to horse associations and 10% to the track, would end on March 31, 2013.

Obviously, Dalton McGuinty and his government were now eyeing using casinos to fight the deficit. Clearly, the Ontario government made this decision only due to “greed” with little care about the importance of the horse racing industry in our rural areas.

Downtown Watson

At the time, the president of the OLG, Rod Phillips, expressed desire to have more gaming facilities in selected areas throughout Ontario. He also expressed his concerns about seeing so many Ontario license plates at the Lac Leamy Casino in Gatineau. In addition, Phillips said “he’s received feedback from customers that the slots at Rideau – Carleton Raceway on Albion Road are too far”. [2] (Ottawa could get Casino)

We also had the spectre of councillors like Bob Monette and the chairman of the city’s planning committee, Peter Hume, singing the praises of the potential of having a downtown casino and suggesting where it might be. [3] Furthermore, in April 2012, all we heard Mayor Jim Watson express was that “perhaps we shouldn’t close the slots at Rideau – Carleton Raceway until a new downtown casino opens in Ottawa”. Very clearly, the mayors’ only concern was about the revenue loss for the city, nothing else! [4](Don’t Close Casino … Yet!). Keeping in mind this is the same Mayor Watson who had the “audacity”, the following year in 2013, to claim he was always for Rideau Carleton. Obviously, he counts on the public never taking notice or remembering anything??

Therefore, s this clearly documents, all the information regarding the intentions of the McGuinty government and Mayor Watson was definitely in the public domain and open for discussion for several months in 2012.

Lisa MacLeod’s Efforts

The only “local politician who came out very strongly about this issue throughout this entire period was MPP Lisa MacLeod. Moreover, she raised interest and awareness at the “grass roots” level, not at some closed – door meeting. In fact, my wife and I are on Lisa MacLeod’s mail – out list, and during this time we received several e-mails regarding her concerns about this issue.

[6]Take Action Help Save Horse Racing Industry

At Queens Park she introduced the petition, which we all eventually signed at the Rideau – Carleton raceway. [7] (Petition for Horse Racing Industry) In addition, she arranged for buses to Queen’s Park, spoke at rallies and also addressed the 2012 Liberal Budget in defense of the horse racing industry.

Finally, at the end of August 2012, MPP MacLeod made a motion calling for the Ontario Auditor General to review the OLG plans and the impact this decision would have on Ontario’s horse racing industry. [8a] (MacLeod wants AG to review OLG’s plans) [8b] (Tories would end plan to build Casinos)

Rushed City Vote

It was not until October 2012 that there was any public consultation or feedback allowed at municipal Council. As you know, at the time Mayor Jim Watson was quite insistent that he wanted a downtown casino, and therefore rushed the Council vote in his desire to shut down debate. [9] (City invited ONLY pro-casino speakers) Many were left wondering what the rush was and angry about the secrecy of the process for deciding where a new casino would go. Even many of the city council members themselves expressed the fact that they felt they didn’t have enough information and thus, were certainly not sure what the vote represented. [10] (Casino motion passes)

Therefore, on Wed. Oct 10 2012, Council voted in support of a new casino. Only five councillors, including Rideau – Goulbourn Councillor Scott Moffatt voted against the motion. At the meeting, Scott Moffatt gave a very impassioned speech outlining his view that the vote meant he end of the raceway. [11] (council votes 19-5 in favour of casino)

Obviously, the rushed vote was clearly not necessary and a mistake forced by Watson. When the vote was taken council was in charge. They could have said a flat no to a downtown casino like Kingston did. They could have set the parameters of the discussion and said take it or leave it.



Our Councillors’ Vote

Meanwhile, our representative Councillor Doug Thompson ended up voting the way that Watson and the OLG wanted him to – for the open bidding process for a casino in Ottawa. Mr. Thompson left me totally amazed and baffled by his vote. Once again, he was acting as one of Watson’s “bobbleheads”. Very clearly, he could have properly represented the concerns of us all by voting against the motion.

At the time, Thompson did approach Watson to put forward a “weak-kneed” motion “for the OLG to consider providing an opportunity for the raceway to be pre-qualified to take part in the final bidding process”. To me, all they missed here was saying “pretty please”! (As an aside, my wife and I have been on Doug Thompson’s mail – out list for years, received his very first mention regarding this issue on an e-mail after the vote had taken place). [12] (Council Expresses interest in new gaming facility)

No matter how one attempts to “sugar – coat” it this vote still meant that this decision was put out of our municipal government hands. As Mr. Thompson himself, in his June 2013 newsletter, finally admits “it was never clear if Ottawa City Council would have final say on the location, which is the reason some Councillors did not support the motion”. Furthermore, he also then states that “there was never a formal commitment made by the OLG” that they would put a casino in a location that was preferred by the city. [13] (Casino Update from Doug Thompson)

Watson’s “Timed” Flip-flop

As a result, this process was left in the hands of the OLG for an extended period of time. It was not until Dalton McGuinty resigned and there was a change in some of the key personnel at OLG that anything actually changed at all.

It was at this point that Councillor Tim Tierney brought forward the motion to re-open the casino debate. In July 2013, due to the changes in provincial leadership, Watson was able to “time his flip-flop” and agreed to reopen the issue. [14] (Casino site is Rideau Carleton – Deans) As you know, it was at this time that Eugene Melnyk threatened to sue the city for suddenly closing the process. [15] (Melnyk threatens to sue council if Rideau Carleton chosen)

On August 28, 2013, Council voted 16-7 to tell the OLG that the Rideau – Carleton raceway would be the only site for a casino. Jim Watson called the decision “the worst of both worlds”, as he felt that gaming money would continue to cross the Ottawa River and the city stuck with treating gambling addictions. [16] (Council wants Rideau Carleton Raceway as expanded gaming site)

The Problem Continues

Therefore, the issue merely ended up going full-circle at our municipal Council over a two – year period. Meanwhile, while the mayor and some councillors like Doug Thompson were congratulating themselves about what a “wonderful job” they had done, they never took notice regarding the truth of what was really happening to the racing industry.

As the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association reported, after the last full year of the slots program (2011), approximately 9,000 jobs left the horse racing industry. In addition, the number of horse owners licensed by the Ontario Racing Commission declined by about 30 per cent. [17] (Ontario Horse racing down 9,000 jobs after slots decision) Furthermore, there were resulting losses in the breeding sector, purses, and track employees and so on. Indeed, the sudden decision by the provincial government to pull the funding was disgusting and had a devastating effect on the industry, which may never be recovered. Even more disappointing was the total neglect this industry received for over a two year period from the different levels of government.

At the current time, it does now appear that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne does at least understand the effects that the decision to end the slots at Racetrack Program has had on the industry. [18] (Canadian horse racing industry desperate for a comeback) Her government has made a plan which committed new funding to the industry. However, more money and good intentions will not solve the problem. We need a provincial government that will come up with a long-term solution to the problem. We also need a mayor and Ottawa Council that clearly understands an issue, openly consults the public, tells the truth and always acts in our best interest!


[1] (See Committee June 16, 2011)

[2] (Ottawa could get Casino)

[3] (Old Union Station good for Casino)

[4](Don’t Close Casino … Yet!)

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhQeVcOZbWQ&feature=youtu.be

[6]Take Action Help Save Horse Racing Industry

[7] (Petition for Horse Racing Industry)

[8a] (MacLeod wants AG to review OLG’s plans)

[8b] (Tories would end plan to build Casinos)

[9] (City invited ONLY pro-casino speakers)

[10] (Casino motion passes)

[11] (council votes 19-5 in favour of casino)

[12] (Council Expresses interest in new gaming facility)

[13] (Casino Update from Doug Thompson)

[14] (Casino site is Rideau Carleton – Deans)

[15] (Melnyk threatens to sue council if Rideau Carleton chosen)

[16] (Council wants Rideau Carleton Raceway as expanded gaming site)

[17] (Ontario Horse racing down 9,000 jobs after slots decision)

[18] (Canadian horse racing industry desperate for a comeback)

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