By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton mayor Bob Bratina is willing to roll the dice and examine a casino for the city’s downtown core.
“I’m not willing to arbitrarily send away a $200-million proponent on the basis of some of the comments I’ve heard,” Bratina told about 250 people during a Hamilton Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast meeting Feb. 5, featuring the mayor.
He said other major Canadian cities have a casino, such as Edmonton,Winnipeg, Halifax, and Regina, and their elected leaders remain unwilling to shut them down.
“I don’t believe a well designed hotel-casino complex would be a catastrophe as so many people have said,” said Bratina.
He said gambling already occurs within the city with people playing bingos, and lottery tickets sold on a daily basis. He acknowledged there are gambling addicts, composed of about one per cent of the population, who may be attracted to a gaming facility, but the rest of the public “doesn’t have a gambling problem.
“Gambling will go on anyways,” he said.
He said allowing a casino in the downtown won’t deter future private investment into the city, despite the fear-mongering that seems to be occurring.
“It doesn’t work that way,” said Bratina, pointing out Hamilton has a wide variety of culture, and entertainment activities. “We are a big city and even if a casino is not successful, it doesn’t mean we are in catastrophe mode.”
A newly formed consortium, called Rockhammer Inc, involving the Carmen’s Group, unveiled a $200-million development project Feb. 4 at Sizzle nightclub on Hess Street, which would include a gaming facility, Hard Rock Café-brand luxury hotel, bars, and a museum for Canadian culture. Proponents said the development will create 1,200 permanent jobs, and pump in $10 million in local taxes.
The Carmen’s Group is scheduled to appear before the governance issues committee Feb. 6 to talk about its proposal. But the consortium is only one of a possible number of bidders that may want to operate a casino in Hamilton. The OntarioLottery and Gaming Corp. issued its request for proposals, and will identify its preferred bidder. But it will be up to councillors to decide whether the city will be a willing host for a downtown casino. Councillors have already backed a gaming facility at Flamboro Downs.
“I would say on the face of it, (the Carmen’s Group proposal) looks good,” said Bratina. “But council will have to sit with the proponent and ask our questions and find out the details.”
Just as he did during his State of the City address at the Stoney Creek Chamber of Commerce’s Jan. 29 luncheon, Bratina trumpeted Hamilton’s economic revival, praising its record-setting building permits, lauding the city’s low unemployment rate at 5.9 per cent, and the boom in construction that had spurred an economic revival in the downtown, including the $200-million combined hotel, and condominium project currently being built at Bay and Main streets, and the $40 million new health campus by McMaster University across from City Hall.
“We are on the comeback,” he said.
And while the city does have a poverty problem, it isn’t as bad as other municipalities, such as Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg,Vancouver, or some First Nations, said Bratina.
“The numbers are moving in the right direction,” he said.
He also championed adding a one per cent increase to the provincial sales tax inHamilton, so the money raised would go towards paying for needed infrastructure projects, including the light-rail transit, which could cost about $1 billion. He said the extra tax could raise about $100 million annually.
“The public would have to be sold on it,” said Bratina.