By Marc Venema
There are mixed feelings among Belleville residents on the possibility of a casino coming to the Quinte region after it was dubbed a “gaming zone” by the OLG.
Earlier this month, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation introduced 29 zones in the province that would be able to operate a slots facility under a private owner.
One of the zones was “zone E2”, an area that covers most of Belleville and part of Quinte West, opening the possibility for a private sector company to start up a casino in the area.
Karen Poste, economic and strategic initiatives manager with the City of Belleville, said the casino would bring money into the city.
“From an economic development perspective there are a lot of positives,” Poste said.
“With a casino comes economic activity, so you have people coming to the community, people in the community spending money at the casino, there are jobs that are created.”
Poste said money made from the casino would go directly back into the city.
“The municipality gets a share of the revenue from the casino that we can use to improve things in the city,” Poste said.
However, Belleville Councilor Jodie Jenkins is opposed to the possibility of a casino coming to the area.
“My personal preference and what I’m hearing from citizens of Belleville that have contacted me is they don’t want a casino in our city,” Jenkins said. “I’m looking at the big picture, I’m looking long term vision.
“It’s not something I believe that we need in our community, I don’t think its adds anything to our community.”
The zoning comes just a month after a proposed racetrack and slots facility for Belleville was shot down by the OLG.
OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti said the failure of that project was a factor in naming the Belleville area a gaming zone.
“At that time, it was build a racetrack and you can have a slot facility,” Bitonti said. “It wasn’t a racetrack or slot facility, it was racetrack and slot facility.
“Now that whole policy has changed so we put Belleville back in there because we do feel that Belleville does have the potential to host a gaming facility.”
For a facility to come to the area, a private company or individual must go through a process with the OLG to make sure they are qualified and would be compliant with OLG and Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario requirements.
The private owner would be in charge of running the facility, including managing the building and staff, while the OLG would look after gaming services and finances.
Jenkins said he hopes the municipality will have a say in the decision.
“I’m hoping if something like that was to come forward that the OLG is not in a position where they would simply say you’re getting one.
“I hope there would be a referendum, I would hope that there would be a chance for the community to say yes we do or no we don’t.”
Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis wasn’t optimistic that the city would have much of a choice.
“We will have to just see what the province wants to do but by the looks of it, I don’t think there’s probably going to be a choice on the end of the municipalities.”
Bitonti said that’s not the case.
“We have said right from the beginning that if a municipal government does not want a casino or any type of gaming facility, then one will not be built there,” Bitonti said. “We are not going to be where we aren’t welcomed.
“But saying that, from the expression of interest we had with the prior project (racetrack), I do believe the municipality is in favour of something.”
The mayor would not say if he was for or against a casino coming to Belleville.
“It’s not about my opinion,” Ellis said. “It has to be what the majority of the citizens of Belleville would want.”
A chunk of the zone also falls in Quinte West.
Quinte West Mayor John Williams said it’s not a battle between the two cities, but wherever the owner would want to invest the private money.
“It’s really up to the individual that makes the proposal,” Williams said. “Each city has an opportunity.”
If a casino were to come to the area, it would be able to host a maximum of 300 slot machines.
The OLG is currently in the request for information stage. They’re currently hearing from potential owners and private sectors interested in opening a casino in one of the 29 zones. The proposal stage will begin in the fall.