McMeekin, Musicians Comment On Downtown Hamilton Casino

Published: February 9, 2013 09:21 am EST

"Is a casino the best way, the best way in Downtown Hamilton to build a strong, healthy, vibrant, economic community? Stand alone, I don't think so."

Reports indicate that Hamilton council has received more time to make a decision on which location they endorse for a casino, with the debate primarily focusing on a downtown location versus Flamboro Downs.

“After updating the OLG on our council's progress and awaiting the upcoming staff report, I suggested an extension of a month to continue our work,” states an email from Hamilton's Mayor Bob Bratina to city council. “They were supportive and agreeable. I look forward to council's input.”

MPP Ted McMeekin, who is the province's Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for the next few days, spoke recently at a Flamborough Chamber of Commerce function and was asked about a downtown Hamilton casino.

"I can see a facility in Flamborough if that's what the City wants, the mayor and I have had some long chats about this," said McMeekin. "With some expanded gaming opportunities. But I sure don't want to see it in isolation of horse racing. Bruce [Barbour, of Great Canadian Gaming], you and I have had some good discussion about that. John [Snobelen] has pointed out what a great partner you've been and how we are working hard to see how we can make that happen. Because apart from the horses I think, to be frank, all bets are off.

"You know that the city is going to have to make a decision on what they feel is in the best interest of the whole city and the Mayor may want to speak to that."

At the same event, Mayor Bob Bratina noted that Hamilton Council is "solidly behind the maintenance of the horse racing industry as part of our agricultural portfolio, and we're not finished discussing that yet around the Council table."

With no guarantees that the OLG wouldn't expand the gaming zone, as they recently did for the SW1 area to pitch a Waterloo region casino to Wilmot Township, some Hamilton city staffers wonder if the OLG will do the same thing in the event that Flamboro Downs is chosen as the preferred Hamilton location. So far, all the other major centres in Hamilton's SW9 gaming zone have voted against casino development.

According to a CBC article, Hamilton Council will receive a staff report on a casino that will be presented on Thursday to a general issues committee meeting on Feb. 14. The report weighs and estimates the potential economic benefits of different casino locations.

Coun. Sam Merulla has stated he will introduce a motion asking the province to pause the OLG modernization strategy to allow for a 2014 referendum.

An article in the February issue of Hamilton Magazine makes an analogy that could be extrapolated to other larger urban centres, asking if a downtown Hamilton casino will bring in the projected revenue in the face of increased land-based and future online competition.

In their Business Review, the OLG outlines a determination to enter the world of internet gambling. They lament "an estimated $400 million is spent annually on gaming sites." Additionally, they plan to license private operators to replace the OLG-run lotteries with "new games that appeal to new customers." This plan includes a private-sector deployment of lottery terminals, which the OLG hints might take the form of selfserve lottery machines. When the OLG is in every checkout aisle, and in our homes, will a Hamilton casino be able to compete?

Meanwhile, Sam Merulla isn't the only Hamilton city councillor planning on introducing a motion at that meeting. Coun. Judi Partridge will introduce a motion to ask the province to allow Flamboro to expand for “full gaming facility and ancillary casino uses such as a hotel and restaurants, as well as construction expansion.” The land adjacent to the racetrack property has not been zoned for development due to environmental concerns.

Those same concerns were raised when the principal parties in the RockHammer project were asked if they would be able to take their vision for a downtown casino to Flamboro if city council made Flamboro Downs their preferred casino destination.

“[Our project] would make more sense downtown than in Flamborough,”said RockHammer partner P.J. Mercanti, noting that they'd have to re-examine the project if located there. "Our preference is maximized city-building opportunities.”

Mercanti also stated that the entertainment provided in the project, a destination "conceived by Hamiltonians, to be operated by Hamiltonians, financed by Hamiltonians, and finally to be enjoyed by Hamiltonians,” would concentrate on showcasing local talent. On Thursday, nearly 80 musicians and entertainers from the Hamilton area issued an open letter against a downtown casino.

“The recent proposal by the Hard Rock Group and Carmens Group Inc. for a downtown casino suggests that a live music venue will be a large component of their facility,” the statement reads. “As musicians, promoters and music venue owners we have a very real concern that a large entertainment complex, run, in part, by a large American-owned corporation, could potentially harm local, independent music venues and promoters.”

Included in the group of entertainers are Max Kerman of The Arkells, George Pettit of Alexisonfire, Monster Truck and Young Empires. The full letter is available below.



Slowly the province is beginning to examine the consequences of the modernization of gaming.The OLG was allowed to role out it's plan's for the future of gaming without anyone in Finance questioning the underlying assumptions used to justify their grand new vision. When the CEO of Rio Can is questioning his chairman publicly about the most important part of the OLG's strategy the landscape has changed.

Gaming in Ontario is a zero sum game with a few exceptions. Horse racing is one of those. The added economic activity due to inputs from the owners of the horses have provided the province value for it's money. Everyone in the industry has long known the purse structure is not the most significant input. The cost of maintaining the industry has largely been born by the owners and breeders of the horses. Dwight Duncan should be remembered as the worst Finance Minister in the history of the province because he never asked the simple question how much money preserves how many jobs.

I am presently a horse owner who has always been concerned about job cuts in all industries including our own. I am also a Hamilton taxpayer and wish to commend my council for their refusal to be bullied into doing something we may later regret. I was shocked to learn how much of our populace is involved in the agriculture sector for their incomes! The spin off jobs from horse racing are mind boggling. Why would anyone want these funds to cease and further revenues head south tax free. To all these people, who like these musicians take the trouble to look seriously at a proposed casino downtown my congratulations! Keep our gambling and horseracing at Flamboro Downs which is operated by a Canadian company providing revenue to our city and country! Please!

In reply to by DaveN50

Did I hear the P word in the above statement- great" partnership" with Great Canadian Gaming ? How can that be when everything I was told by the liberals was that it was a subsidy? And if the partnership was so great in the past why would you want to ruin that? And why would all bets be off just because of racing. Its been a demolishing process against racing at all costs and against all reason especially whenever Mc meeken opens his mouth.

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