Hamilton Councilors Up in Arms over Casino

The OLG casino proposals have proven very divisive in communities across Ontario, and Hamilton has been one of the most controversial debates.  However, the disputes seemingly have less to do with the OLG, and are instead between city councilors lobbying for their respective wards to participate in public forums on the casino proposal.  Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina and Councilor Terry Whitehead found themselves in a heated argument over the mayor’s resistance to a third public forum for residents on Hamilton Mountain, which is the ward Whitehead represents.  Eventually cooler heads prevailed at the casino sub-committee and an agreement was settled on to include a public forum for Mountain residents.

Previously council had proposed having two public forums with one located at City Hall downtown, and the other in Flamborough where Hamilton’s gaming facility Flamboro Downs is located.  But Whitehead insisted that residents on the upper mountain would both participate and be affected by any casino investments in the area, and it was unfair to exclude their opinions from being heard in consultation discussions.  At the sub-committee meeting on Friday November 30, Whitehead went after the mayor for refusing to even consider a third public forum, saying it was “insulting” to residents on the mountain.

You’re forcing residents of the mountain not to be part of the process.”

The argument between the two delayed the committee from discussing official business until an agreement could be reached that a meeting on the upper mountain was necessary for the proposal to move forward.  Bratina spoke after the meeting about his dispute with Whitehead, insisting that as public officials they needed to show more discipline.

“We can’t be accusing each other of insulting or making asinine decisions.”

The sub-committee eventually returned to discussions about what a gaming investment would include, which Bratina says should include a hotel or entertainment venue in addition to a casino.  Other meeting topics included revenue generation, which is of great concern to Judi Partridge who represents Flamborough.  She says if Flamboro Downs closes, Hamilton loses over $4 million in annual revenue along with putting 3,000 employees out of work.  City staff is expected to report to the sub-committee in January about how much revenue is expected from a casino, and which location would be best for it.

Flamboro Downs is cited as a possible location but is rivaled by a downtown location preferred by the OLG.  Hamilton has been given until early 2013 to submit its approval or withdrawal from the casino proposal process.

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