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COMMUNITY COLUMNIST: Keep open mind when it comes to casino location

By Tom Jackson, special to the News

In the last six months, the conversation has usually begun this way: “Councillor Jackson, we don’t need a casino in Hamilton.” I respond with, “We already have one. It’s been at Flamboro Downs for about 15 years.”
Just to refresh everyone’s memory, we’ve had racetrack betting and 750 slot machines there since the late ’90s. Since amalgamation, the city has accepted approximately $4 million to $4.5 million per year to be used for offsetting costs in Flamborough and for budgeting purposes for the entire city.
Prior to the OLG’s announcement that it wants to shut down racetracks in favour of larger, Vegas-style casinos, I don’t recall receiving any communication from anyone telling me to return the annual revenue from Flamboro Downs. Not churches, social agencies or poverty advocates.
I’m just trying not to be hypocritical on the fact I’ve voted all these years for the Flamboro Downs’ profits.
Having stated the above, The Rockhammer’s recent gargantuan proposal cannot be dismissed, especially if Flamboro Downs has no future, predicated on the OLG and provincial government. Remember, the municipality did NOT begin this controversial topic! The Carmen’s Group, LIUNA, and professor Nick Bontis have all cared deeply about the economic viability and future of our great city! You can point to various landmarks in our city to see the Mercantis’ and Mancinellis’ “footprint” on investment.
Returning to the Flamboro Downs option, my position and council’s unanimous position has been Flamboro Downs as our preferred choice. We have such a unique situation in our community that would make others jealous.
A few months ago, I went on an organized tour in Flamborough with one of the most influential racehorse training families. I visited about six farm operations that day. I was truly flabbergasted by the magnitude of the racehorse operations, right in our own backyard.
I’ve been told there are approximately 4,000 people employed in this industry in Hamilton, (groomers, riders, breeders, feeders, trainers) and ironically, Flamboro Downs is number three in the province of all the current racetracks, in terms of revenue. As an animal lover and owner, I shudder to think what would happen to thousands of healthy horses, if the industry was closed!
Finally, to those staunch supporters of a downtown casino only, who say the city of Hamilton would have two major hurdles to cross to keep Flamboro open, namely, the Greenbelt legislation and servicing costs, I say, not necessarily.
Firstly, a large septic system already exists at Flamboro. If some gaming tables were added, exclusive of a hotel, I believe servicing costs would be avoided. Secondly, the province has provided special dispensation to Hamilton, when it was requested or when they felt there was a benefit to granting it. The province supported the city’s desire to expand the urban boundary at the airport. On the quarry fight, the province weighed in to support the residents.
The same possibilities could exist at an expanded casino operation at Flamboro Downs. Lastly, our faith and confidence in MPP Ted McMeekin must not waver, working alongside of Premier Wynne.
Tom Jackson is councillor for Ward 6 (east Mountain). Columns from the Mountain’s councillors appear monthly on a rotating basis.  If you would like to write in this space, call editor Gord Bowes at 905-664-8800 ext. 335.

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