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Casino debate continues in Hamilton

By Kevin Werner, METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP

If the 70 people who turned out for a Stoney Creek Chamber of Commerce luncheon is any indication, they wouldn’t mind having a casino in Hamilton.

Mayor Bob Bratina, the keynote speaker at the Oct. 4 event at the Powerhouse Restaurant, conducted an informal vote on whether the city should pursue a casino.

Out of the 61 people who filled out a ballot, 37 said yes, while 24 turned thumbs down on the idea. “This room reflects the general sentiment (of having a casino in the city),” said the mayor.

Bratina says politicians are struggling to understand what Hamiltonians want from a casino. The city already hosts Flamboro Downs, which features only slots. The city receives about $4.5 million annually as its cut.

“What is the question for us as councillors to phrase for the broader public?” said the mayor. “It’s really important any decision council makes is fully informed.”

Councillors Terry Whitehead and Jason Farr are asking the public to vote on the casino issue on their respective web sites. Farr is hosting a public forum Oct. 11 at the council chambers on the issue.

The city has until the end of December to gauge public sentiment on whether or not it wants to be a host municipality for a casino.

The city’s ultimate answer is needed by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, which will be issuing request for proposals to the private sector in either late December, or early January to have gaming facilities in 29 designated zones across the province. Hamilton is in the same zone as Burlington.

Politicians have already approved a motion supporting Flamborough as the only area for a casino in Hamilton. But the OLG’s lease with Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which owns Flamboro Downs, ends March 31, 2013. The province is also eliminating the Slots at Racetrack Program on the same date, saving about $345 million.

During the mayor’s nearly one-hour presentation, he also talked about the Pan Am stadium design, which is scheduled to be revealed Oct. 12, councillors’ approval of Live Nation, Global Spectrum the Carmen’s Group takeover of Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. and light rail transit. He praised the Pan Am stadium deal, and despite some politicians who want to re-open the debate, he said “it’s no time to change your mind. Generally speaking everyone was happy.”

Even though Bratina’s talk did not have  an w theme, he emphasized he’s conscious of protecting residents, and making sure they get the best value for their tax dollars. “We have to do better with other people’s money,” he said. “You people are the ones who have to make the payroll.”

Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark, who attended the luncheon, took issue with the mayor’s description of events, such as the Pan Am Games, and light rail transit.

“It’s a little bit tiresome to go to these things and listen to facts that have been stretched and selectively remembered,” he said. “He seems to think the Pan Am Games is a great win for the city and that no one should be complaining about that fact.”

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