The proposed Hamilton casino has been a controversial subject due to its potential effects on the social environment of the city, but the proposal has also caused a high level of controversy at Hamilton city hall between councilors. The latest controversy involves comments by Councilor Sam Merulla, a vocal opponent of the casino, who compared the OLG to a crack dealer.
Mayor Bob Bratina added to the controversy by issuing an email to Merulla that the councilor says is copyrighted from an email he received from PJ Mercanti, President of Carmens Group. Merulla suggests Carmens Group is lobbying to install the Hamilton casino, and that the mayor’s email suggests a conflict of interest. Casino opponents say the email is proof that city council is putting the interests of potential operators ahead of Hamilton residents – some voices are even calling for the mayor’s resignation.
Mercanti attempted to calm the brewing storm by insisting Carmens is not interested in the casino license, but does support a casino in the city. The Carmens Group President said the controversy lies with Merulla and his comments.
“What I do believe is problematic for the overall relationship between the city of Hamilton and the province of Ontario is that one of our local councilors likened the activities of a Crown corporation of the province to those of an illegal narcotics dealer.”
Merulla countered that the Bratina’s actions were at the insistence of Mercanti, and that it underscores a biased opinion on the mayor’s part in regards to the casino. The councilor also says the mayor’s comments do not represent the views of other councilors at city hall, and that outside influencers are pressuring Bratina to ensure the casino proposal is approved regardless of the opinions of other councilors or Hamilton residents.
“Having a casino license is a license to print money. Obviously there is going to be a significant interest, particularly from those who have this type of expertise to lobby for this casino.”
The back and forth battle is expected to continue as the debate over the future of gambling in Hamilton resumes in 2013 when council returns from the holiday break. The OLG has given the city until the end of February to make a decision about the casino proposal.