So Loto-Québec is planning on introducing drinking on the floors of the province’s four casinos, as part of a broader effort to update and modernize the casinos to increase revenue and draw higher attendance. Currently both are down, prompting the péquiste health minister (?) to state “it’s time we got our heads out of the sand and ensures our casinos can be competitive.” As it stands, Québec’s casinos are the only casinos in North America where the consumption of alcohol is not permitted on the gaming floor.
The plan is that, by getting on board with open drinking on the gaming floor, many more people will visit and revenues will increase. Gérard Bibeau, the head of Loto-Québec believes nearly $100 million in lost revenue could be generated (though it seems he’s basing this calculation on the idea that attendance is down specifically because drinking isn’t permitted. I would hope attendance is down because a sufficient number of people would rather save their hard earned money rather than risk it). Bibeau suggests that the $100 million figure represents what could have been pulled in by the casinos if not for a 4% drop in attendance over the past few years.
Hmmm. What’s been happening that might convince people to stay away from casinos for the past four or five years…?
Loto-Québec’s prohibition of drinking while gambling on the casino floor is certainly particular, especially when you consider that it’s not a prohibition on drinking and gambling in the wider sense. Anyone can drink and gamble themselves into oblivion at video lottery terminals (VLTs) located in every dive bar in the province – and plenty have (though officially the bartender is supposed to discourage this, if I’m not mistaken). And from my experience working in dépanneurs I can tell you drinking and gambling certainly go together, though it has never been my experience that these activities ever did anyone any good.
But I digress.
Many moons ago it was a lovely Tuesday night in the suburbs and my buddies and I were bored. We were young, temporarily unimaginative yet also cognizant that we couldn’t quite figure out what to do with ourselves. So we piled into a car and took off for the Casino de Montréal. It was my first and last time there and I broke even, winning and then losing $100.
The first thing I really took notice of was a geriatric sitting in a pink jumpsuit, slumped ever so slightly over on one side, an oxygen tank leaning against her high chair. She had a neon yellow elastic chord attached from her jumpsuit pocket to a debit card locked into a one-armed bandit, pressing the button as though in a trance.
These are not the people we want in our casinos (admittedly I’m making a jugement call here, but she did not appear to be a high-roller; she looked like a senior citizen gambling away her pension cheque). Adding drink to the mix will make this problem worse. We want other people’s money – tourist money.
When the Casino de Montréal opened in 1993 it was a bit of a big deal. It’s a surprisingly large casino by Canadian standards, featuring over a hundred gaming tables and 3,200 gaming machines, not to mention the bars and restaurants (three and four respectively) as well as the cabaret and assorted meeting and banquet facilities. As intended, it’s open all day every day of the year and is located far from the city, isolated from the pedestrian and public transit pace of the downtown core on Ile-Notre-Dame. It came to be a year after the city’s 350th anniversary as part of a series of civic improvement projects instituted by Mayor Doré. In this particular case, it allowed for two iconic Expo pavilions to be preserved and rendered permanent. As such, it is peculiar for a casino, as it features low ceilings, natural sunlight and openly encourages its patrons to step away from the tables to smoke, drink and socialize.
When it opened, it was supposed to be classy. The restaurants were top-notch, the chefs and wine selection unbeatable. There was even a dress code – jackets and ties for men, no hats, no jeans etc.
I think this is something we should maintain. Everything about our casino, as initially intended, was almost designed to de-emphasize the gambling. It’s not a big gray box. It doesn’t disorient the patrons by omitting windows. It invites patrons to step away from the gaming, to go outside and get some fresh air. These are design elements we should continue to value.
There’s no doubt our casino and state-regulated gambling is useful – it funnels money from the people’s pocket back into the government purse. Loto-Québec is a provincial crown corporation whose mandate is ‘to operate games of chance in the province in an orderly and measured way’ and I would argue strongly they do a generally good job, even though I’m morally opposed to the practice in the first place.
I suppose it’s not so bad if it’s rich people who’re losing their money – they can afford it.
But all too often casinos wind up preying, even if indirectly, on the poorest elements of society – they people most desperate for a financial break are all too often those with bad finances and who exercise poor jugement with their money. And whereas there once were controls – like the dress code and limitations on drinking on the playing floor – these have been shelved to accomodate the poor yet regular patrons who provide the bulk of the casino’s revenue during a prolonged period of economic instability, such as we’re experiencing right now.
But my question is this. Is this really the best way to increase revenue? How much extra coin could this actually produce?
And why look to locals as our main source of casino revenue?
And why isn’t Montreal’s casino generating money specifically for our own needs? The city could use revenue generated by the Casino de Montréal more immediately and doubtless more efficiently. As an example, with new legislation, the Casino de Montréal’s revenue could be re-directed towards costly and necessary infrastructure improvements to local schools (you’ll no doubt recall many local schools have severe mould and asbestos problems). Or to provide scholarships and bursaries for post-secondary education. Or to help defray the massive cost overruns of the new hospitals. or to improve public transit. The list goes on. As it stands today this money is sent to Québec City, where I suppose it’s moved back into general revenue.
This doesn’t help us much at all, yet Montréal is on the hook for nearly every negative repercussion from casino operations in the city – everything from the social problems associated with gambling addiction in our poorest neighbourhoods to the inevitable suicides and road accidents that happen on the otherwise deserted junction of Ave. Pierre-Dupuy and the Pont de la Concorde.
So let’s do something different.
The city ought to take in a greater share of our casino’s revenue, but we can’t argue this position unless we’re willing to provide our own plan to increase attendance and revenue. Thus, I would argue strongly that the city should look to acquire the single greatest missing piece from our casino’s master plan – a hotel – and assist in redeveloping the Casino de Montréal with a new hotel & resort component. This in turn could be part of a larger plan to increase the use and revenue generated by all the diverse functions of parc Jean-Drapeau.
But where would we build a hotel? Ile-Notre-Dame doesn’t have much space to support a large hotel, and construction may render the island temporarily unusable.
Permanently mooring a cruise ship or ocean liner within proximity of the casino presents us with an interesting possibility to get everything we need for a major casino expansion without having to build much. It would allow us to rather suddenly put a lot of hotel space more or less in the centre of the city’s park islands. Rather than building new we simply tow a full expansion into position. It would look good, it would be exceptionally unique and would further serve to provide a lot of direct financial stimulus for our otherwise underused (and at times worn-down) parc Jean-Drapeau.
And wouldn’t you know it, we could park a cruise ship or old ocean liner right here between the inter-island bridges. One would fit perfectly (though we might have to dredge the channel and temporarily remove one of the bridges) and I think in a broader sense fulfill a grander scheme for the park islands. I’ve often felt that this grand playground lacks any unifying cohesiveness – it’s simply the space we put all the stuff we can’t place elsewhere. We’ve purposely concentrated a lot of diverse entertainment in one space and have done well in maintaining that space’s utility within the public conception of the urban environment. Yet it’s still very detached, isolated even, from the rest of the city.
I feel a floating hotel solves more than one problem, using the location’s relative isolation to its advantage. For locals and people from the region, it could provide a much-needed ‘urban resort’, a place to get away from it all that’s oddly located in the middle of everything. For foreign tourists or families on vacation, it provides a hotel in a controlled environment almost exclusively dedicated to family friendly activities. Re-instituting the dress code and prohibiting drinking from the gaming floor in this newly expanded casino could serve to help sell the image of a classy and unique vacation experience catering to a wide variety of tastes.
Think about it – Parc Jean-Drapeau is a large multi-use park with a considerable natural component, occupying roughly the same amount of space as Mount Royal Park (2.1 square kilometers). It features, among others, a beach, an aquatics centre & rowing basin, manicured parks and trails, an amusement park, a historic fort and a premier outdoor concert venue. Placing a hotel in the middle of it, associated with the aforementioned casino, would surely drive up revenue not only for the casino but everything else going on at the park as well. It could conceivably make the park more useful during the winter months and provide sufficient new revenue so as to redevelop the Biosphere, Helene-de-Champlain restaurant and give the whole place a facelift too. And I don’t think it would take much of anything away from the city’s existing hotels as, from my experience, parc Jean-Drapeau is nearly exclusively used by locals, being perhaps a little too detached for tourists.
For your consideration, this rather handsome looking (and famous) ocean liner, the SS United States, can accomodate 5,000 people and is in desperate need of a buyer to keep her from the breakers. The idea of permanently mooring an ocean liner somewhere in the Old Port isn’t entirely new either. Aside form the fact that it’s already been done elsewhere, our own Mayor Drapeau wanted to use an ocean liner to house Olympic athletes during the `76 Games, with the idea being that the ship would be converted into a floating hotel, casino and convention centre afterwards as part of a broad facelift for the Old Port. His preferred vessel was the SS Normandie.
Definitely worth reconsidering, in my humble option.
If you happen to be looking to buy a cruise ship, look no further.