Councillors will revisit Hamilton casino referendum proposal

A city councillor says he plans to reintroduce the idea of having a casino referendum in 2014.
Hamilton residents hold signs for and against a casino at a public forum last week. Coun. Sam Merulla plans to bring up a previous council motion asking for a referendum in 2014. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A city councillor plans to reintroduce the idea of having a Hamilton casino referendum in 2014.

Councillors tabled the idea of a referendum in the fall. Sam Merulla says he will bring up the idea again at a general issues committee meeting on Feb. 6.

The Ward 4 councillor is also adding a new section to his motion. He plans to ask whoever the new Liberal leader is to urge the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) to stop the Hamilton casino process until the city can hold a referendum.

"I believe that this approach is the most consistent, predictable and non-chaotic," he said.

Hamilton has been debating a possible casino since last year. The OLG's lease to operate 801 slot machines at Flamboro Downs expires on March 31. The corporation wants the city to pass a motion by March 1 saying whether Hamilton wants a gaming facility, and if so, where it could be located.

A referendum used to be mandatory for a casino proposal according to provincial law, which led to Hamilton hold one in 1997, Merulla said.

"That precedent was set," he said. "To not have a referendum would be inconsistent and unpredictable."

Merulla's motion resolves that:

  • the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and housing be requested to make an order requiring the clerk to submit a question to the electors regarding a gaming facility in time for the 2014 municipal election
  • that the province put a moratorium on the selection process of a casino in the Hamilton/Burlington area pending the results of a question to the electors in the city of Hamilton

The Downtown Business Improvement Area surveyed its members last week using an online survey, emails and phone calls. It got little uptake — too small to take an informed position, the BIA said in a media release.

Of the 79 members who filled out the survey, 55 per cent were somewhat or strongly opposed to a downtown casino. Thirty-three per cent were somewhat or strongly in favour. Twelve per cent were neutral or did not have an opinion.

The majority of those who wanted a casino wanted it downtown, the BIA said.

The BIA represents 427 businesses in the area and 164 property owners.