By Dianne Cornish
As the deadline fast approaches for Hamilton city council to decide where a Hamilton casino would best be placed, Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge (Ward 15) continues to press for Flamboro Downs as the preferred location. Her latest move is a strongly worded notice of motion requesting that the Ontario government provide a two-year extension for operation of the Flamboro Downs raceway and a policy change on the zoning at the racetrack to permit expansion of the gaming facility at Flamboro Slots, up to and including an ancillary casino, a hotel and restaurants.
Despite the uncertain future of Flamboro Downs beyond March 31 because of the government’s cancellation of the Slots at Racetrack Program, Partridge remains confident that most councillors will support a new casino at the Hwy. 5 West site. She believes her proposal, crafted with the help of Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark, will get near unanimous, if not full, council support when presented at today’s (Feb. 14) general issues committee meeting. If it does, it will clear some of the hurdles in the decision-making process that has pitted Flamboro Downs against downtown Hamilton as a site for a new casino.
Because Flamboro Downs is in the greenbelt, additional construction or non-agricultural uses of the site are not permitted, but if a policy change is granted by the provincial government, that obstacle will be cleared, paving the way for the site to be developed. Whichever applicant is chosen to develop the site will have to determine how to upgrade the current onsite sewage and water system, Partridge said. She also noted that it would be “cost prohibitive” for the city to extend its sewage and water system to the racetrack and the required Environmental Assessment (EA) for such a project would cause long delays.
“The easiest path would be to upgrade the current system; it’s doable,” she said, noting that Flamboro Downs has 80 to 100 acres to work with.
Partridge is also encouraged by news from Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla that Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) Corporation spokesperson Tony Bitonti, in an email to him last week, stated if council chooses Flamboro Downs, OLG will seek out casino operators who would be interested in developing the location. “If Hamilton decides that it is Flamboro, we will put that out,” Bitonti said his email.
In an earlier presentation to council, Bitonti stated a preference for a new casino “where the people are,” but his willingness to pursue proposals from casino operators for the Flamboro Downs location has spurred Merulla to drop his motion calling for a referendum on the casino in the 2014 municipal election and, instead, push for council’s speedy agreement on Flamboro Downs as the city’s sole gaming site.
Originally, council was given a deadline of Feb. 28 to make a decision about whether Hamilton would be a willing host for a casino, but Mayor Bob Bratina last week asked the OLG for a month’s extension, which was granted. Some councillors feel the decision can be made now and will be pushing for one today.