By Kevin Werner, News Staff
The Carmen’s Group is scheduled to appear before the city’s government issues committee Jan 14 to talk about creating a “gaming facility” in Hamilton’s downtown area.
P.J. Mercanti is scheduled to make a presentation to city councillors with a group of Hamilton business leaders, developers and education representatives in tow, about the “shared the economic and social benefits” of an entertainment destination, which could include a casino, nightlife “experiences,” retail outlets, and museum attractions. This is the first time The Carmen’s Group, which will be taking over the operations of the Hamilton Convention Centre, will make their presentation at the Feb. 6 general issues committee meeting.
Tim McCabe, general manager of economic development, said they will provide specific details about their gaming facility plans, which will also include who the investors are.
For the last few months the Carmen’s Group has been talked about as a potential bidder to locate a casino in the city’s downtown area. Hamilton has scheduled two public meetings Jan. 16 and 17 for the public to debate the issue about whether the city should agree to become a host municipality for a gaming facility.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission has issued request for proposals to private operators to operate a gaming facility in 29 zones it has set up across the province. Hamilton and Burlington is located in one of the zones.
OLG has given Hamilton politicians until March 1 to decide whether it wants to become a host community, said Norm Schleehahn, manager of business development. Councillors have already stated in a previous vote they will support a gaming facility only at Flamboro Downs.
Currently, Flamboro Downs has 800 slots, with the city getting about $4.4 million in revenue. The city recently negotiated a new agreement with OLG that will see that slot revenue jump to $4.7 million in 2013. But if a larger casino is located in the downtown area, there will be about 12,000 slot machines, and table games. The city would not get a cut from any of the table game revenues, said Schleehahn. The city could get over $5 million in slot revenues from the new facility, he said.
The Carmen’s Group decision to talk about their casino plans will come after the city hosts two public forums in Flamborough and city hall. They will include seven panelists, with a representative from the OLG, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city’s medical officer of health, Hamilton Police deputy chief Ken Leendertse, Bruce Barber from Flamboro Downs, speaking on behalf of the horse-racing industry, a professor from McMaster University’s economics department, and officials from the Canadian Gaming Association, and from the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health.
Mike Kirkopoulos, of the city manager’s office, said all aspects of gambling will be presented, from how the OLG restructuring process is being conducted, to the health impacts, to the effects on horse racing.
“This will be a great opportunity for people to ask questions,” he said. “We are providing people with every possible opportunity.”
The Flamborough meeting at Waterdown High will be televised by Cable 14, while the city hall gathering will be live streamed. In addition, residents not at the city hall session will be able to participate in the question and answer session through what city officials are calling a virtual town hall. Residents will be able to register for the telephone forum in order to take part in the conversation. For more information, check out the city’s website www.hamilton.ca.
“This is the first time the city is doing a virtual town hall meeting,” said Kirkopoulos. “This is to allow for more people to take part in the discussion.”
Kirkopoulos said city officials are contemplating conducting a poll on the casino issue. The details are still to be worked out, he said, but the poll could be done by the end of February.
“This is all about educating the public about the gambling issue,” said Schleehahn. “During these public forums, it’s the public’s opportunity to ask questions.”
Kirkopoulos said all of the information gathered from the forums, suggestions from the public and other forms of public input will be presented to councillors so they can make the decision whether or not the city should be a willing host for a downtown gaming facility.
The public forums have come under attack from an anti-casino group, called “No! Downtown Hamilton Casino.”
Led by Dan Jelly and Graham Crawford, the group states it will provide “research-based opposition to building a casino” in the downtown area. They have argued a casino in the downtown will have a detrimental health and safety impact on the area.
“There should be a lot of debate, a lot of questions during these forums,” said Kirkopoulos. “We are letting the people to decide, and providing them with the information to do it.”