By Kevin Werner, News Staff
City officials have had “confidential” talks about locating a casino inHamilton.
General Manager of Planning and Economic Development Tim McCabe told surprised councillors at their Aug. 13 general committee meeting, he has had discussions “through a third party” about the city hosting a gaming facility.
“There is some interest in Hamilton,” said McCabe, calling the talks “absolutely confidential.”
Mayor Bob Bratina acknowledged he has heard “speculation” about a possible casino forHamilton. But he said that’s all it is, rumours, and innuendo, and there is no substance.
But the revelation only buttressed Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla’s idea to pass a motion to keep any future gaming facility at Flamboro Downs and away from the rest of the city.
Merulla said the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which is conducting a procurement process that will select a gaming facility operator in each of the proposed 29 zones across the province, is attempting to establish a casino inHamilton. Merulla’s motion will also includes putting a referendum question about the city hosting a casino on the 2014 municipal ballot.
“The fix is in,” said Merulla. “We are being manipulated. We are being played for fools.”
Bratina questioned the idea of limiting the city’s economic options by supporting the motion.
“We are in a different time,” he said. “We are jeopardizing the $4.4 million.
Councillors agreed to defer voting on the motion until at least Sept. 6 when they meet with OLG officials at a scheduled government issues committee meeting.
Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge didn’t want the city to start entertaining inquiries about hosting a gaming facility.
“I’m not on for that,” she said. “What is our policy?”
OLG representatives have stated they would like to see a gaming facility closer to urban areas so the public can access them easier. They have said for a gaming facility to locate in an area, the municipality must be a willing host.
The OLG announced an overhaul of its gaming facilities last March that is projected to add $1.3 billion each year to its revenue over the next five years. The Liberal government announced the elimination of the Slots for Racetrack program, saving $345 million, as they attempt to cut its $16 billion deficit. The program, when it was first introduced, was intended to support the money-losing horse-racing industry across the province. Race tracks will continue to receive the funding until March 31, 2013. Host municipalities, includingHamilton, receive a cut of the slot revenues. Hamilton received $4.4 million in 2011, but city financial officials say once the program ends next year, the city will receive nothing, and must somehow make up the funding.
For the last 10 years the city has received nearly $49 million in slot revenue, which has gone towards reducing property taxes, and paying down debt in Flamborough.
Hamilton has been lumped in with Burlington in one of the OLG’s gaming zones. There is a possibility that if a casino is located in the zone, it could go to Halton Region, andHamiltonwould lose a cut of any gaming revenue.
In 1997 Hamilton held a casino referendum and a majority of people who voted were against a gaming facility.
“A lot has happened since 1997,” said Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr, who is re-thinking having a casino in his ward. Farr said he indulges in gaming activities “once or twice a year” and sees nothing wrong with it.
“This community has had one for some time,” he said.