It was a tough day of questions for OLG President Rod Phillips yesterday in Hamilton. The head of Ontario’s Lottery and Gaming Corporation was invited to join a sub-committee of Hamilton city councilors discussing the casino proposal presented to the city. The OLG has made it clear it prefers a casino site somewhere in the downtown Hamilton area, but Phillips again stated they would not force a casino on any community that does not vote to ratify the proposal.
Citing aging demographics and a loss of American tourists, Phillips says gaming in Ontario has changed, and that a downtown casino would generate the most money for the city of Hamilton. Sam Merulla, one of the councilors opposed to the casino, was very hard on Phillips at the meeting, stating the OLG’s claims of profit from a downtown casino miss the point of the debate.
“How do we reconcile the fact that where the people are is where the problems are?”
OLG director of social responsibility Paul Pellizzari was also at the meeting, and discussed research the OLG has compiled. He says the average gamer is urban middle class, and that the OLG commits gaming revenue to help council problem gamblers. According to Pellizzari’s records, the OLG commits $28 million for gambling addiction counseling across Ontario.
Phillips was asked what the OLG’s intentions would do to the Flamboro Downs racetrack in the region. He responded that decisions regarding the future of horse-racing are up to the Ontario horse-racing commission, not the OLG. Flamboro Downs currently commits over $4 million annually to Hamilton’s city budget, and councilors are worried that money will be lost if a casino is established elsewhere in the city.
This past spring, Hamilton council voted in favour of a casino at Flamboro Downs with the racetrack still intact. But the OLG has not been in favour of that idea, and reminds council that the lease that the OLG has for its slots at racetrack program is due to expire, and will be transferrable to a casino operator. The operator will then be free to relocate to a preferred location.
One councilor Terry Whitehead, says it would be foolish on council’s part to recommend Flamboro Downs once again. He says an operator could even pack up and leave Hamilton, depriving the city of the money it already receives from the racetrack.
“If we put all of our eggs in one basket, we could lose all of the eggs.”