The Hamilton casino question was placed to the public in a consultation meeting at Waterdown District High School on January 16 – a meeting in which concerned horse owners expressed concern about their livelihoods. The casino proposal is part of the OLG’s gaming modernization strategy, which includes the cancellation of the current slots at racetrack revenue sharing program. Horseracing experts suggest the Flamboro Downs racetrack located outside the city will lose business due to the cancelled program, and will negatively impact thousands of people.
The panel supervising the Waterdown meeting consisted of OLG representative Tony Bitonti, along with members of the Canadian Gaming Association and operators of the Flamboro Downs. The meeting was attended by several horse owners – some of which brought their horses – who attempted to build support for their cause. Michelle McEneny owns five horses, who says her family relies on the money made at the Flamboro Downs racetrack and believes that money will be lost with the OLG’s cancellation of the slots program.
“The horsemen are in a panic. A lot of people have lost their jobs. We’ve lost thousands of dollars already.”
Many of Hamilton’s councilors also attended the meeting, and said they recognized the position of horse owners and workers associated with the industry. The industry’s closest ally at city council is councilor Robert Pasuta who represents the Flamborough riding, and says he will only vote to keep the slots at the Flamboro Downs racetrack.
The Flamboro Downs operators argued that the racetrack impacts more lives than the OLG recognizes. The track directly employs over 1,000 people, most of which live in and around Hamilton, and is associated with another 3,000 jobs associated with the track’s operations.
However, OLG spokesman Bitonti seemed unmoved by the case from the horseracing industry, suggesting horseracing was a viable business before the slots at racetrack program and that Flamboro Downs will survive without the program in the future.
“We believe there will be a horseracing industry without the Slots at Racetracks program. It will be up to the private sector to decide whether to keep the slots at racetracks or not.”
Bitonti says a casino can provide Hamilton with additional gaming revenue to support city infrastructure. When questioned about perceived risks to social and community health, he cited statements from the Hamilton police last week that suggest a casino would have little impact on criminal activity in the city.
Hamilton city hall will host the second public meeting on January 17, where protestors are expected to stage rallies outside the building at the corner of Main and Bay streets.