Casino could mean $7M for Hamilton's coffers: report

If a casino was located somewhere in Hamilton other than Flamboro Downs, and if it had 400 more slots, it could mean $5 to $7 million for the city each year, report says.

Accompanying report shows more problem gamblers downtown

This map shows the percentage of individuals who accessed treatment for problem gambling with Hamilton's Public Health Services from 2002 to 2012. (City of Hamilton)

If a casino was located somewhere in Hamilton other than Flamboro Downs, and if it had 400 more slots, it could mean $5- to $7-million in revenue for the city each year.

This is according to a staff report that will go to a special general issues committee meeting on Feb. 14. The weighty report — more than 400 pages with appendices — estimates the economic benefits of potential casino locations.

The report shows that Flamboro Downs, with its 801 slots, added $4,445,000 to city coffers in 2011. Under a new agreement with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), Flamboro Downs is expected to contribute $4,845,000 and the full-time equivalent of 225 jobs after April 1.

If a casino was located somewhere other than Flamboro Downs — such as the downtown core — with 400 more slots, it would mean up to $7 million and 400 to 600 jobs, says the report from Tim McCabe, general manager of planning and economic development.

The figure is based on OLG estimates.

"OLG has stated that a relocated facility in the core of Hamilton has the potential to increase gaming revenues, which would lead to increased municipal contributions and economic activity," the report says.

It could also bring as much as $200 million in construction and, if the 225 employees from Flamboro Downs were transferred, 175 to 375 new jobs.

Council stated a preference last year for gaming to remain at Flamboro Downs. Coun. Sam Merulla said the increased revenue forecast in the report isn't enough for him to change his mind.

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The increased revenue from a downtown casino could come in part from its proximity to low-income neighbourhoods, he said, which makes him "appalled."

"We know that casino activity in Flamborough is incredibly profitable," he said. "If we know it can be possible in Flamborough, the only thing that's driving the agenda to bring it to the core is greed. From my perspective, that's unconscionable."

Not just about money

The decision is more complicated than another $3 million being added to the budget, or the number of jobs, Coun. Terry Whitehead said. He'd like to know more about the "net cost" of a casino, including how much it would cost the city to deal with any social issues it causes.

"There's more to this story than just the economic benefits," he said.

But he's also concerned about the city losing revenue from Flamboro Downs. The province eliminated its Slots at Racetracks program last year, and the OLG's lease for its slots at Flamboro Downs expires on March 31.

"Will I risk $7 million over zero? No," He said. "Will I risk $7 million over $4.5 million? That's where the other measurements come in."

The now-disbanded gaming facility subcommittee ordered the staff report in November. It also looks at where a casino could be located in the city and potential design parameters.

Several health agencies against a casino

Councillors will also consider a report from Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, about the health and social impacts of a casino.

Richardson's report shows that the majority of Hamilton's low-income residents live in the lower city — in some areas, as many as 48 per cent of the population is low-income. The lower-city area also has the most population density.

Flamborough, on the other hand, has a lower population density and fewer than 5.5 per cent of residents fall below the low-income cut-off mark.

Part of the lower city is also marked as having the most residents who have accessed treatment for problem gambling. As many as 8 per cent of problem gambling cases from 2002 to 2012 came from some areas of the lower city, particularly northeast of the downtown core. Two to four per cent came from the area of Flamborough that contains Flamboro Downs.

Richardson's report also includes letters from Hamilton Health Sciences, St. Joseph's Hospital, the Hamilton Family Health Team, the Hamilton Academy of Medicine and the Hamilton Community Foundation against a downtown casino.

"We believe that constructing a casino at any location within the City of Hamilton would put further pressure on an already strained local health care system," said Mark Rizzo, chair of Hamilton Health Sciences, in a letter to councillors.

Voting on a referendum

Councillors will also vote on a pair of casino-related motions on Feb. 14, including:

  • Coun. Judi Partridge will introduce a motion asking the province to sign a ministerial zoning order to allow a "full gaming facility and ancillary casino uses such as a hotel and restaurants, as well as construction expansion of Flamboro Downs." The notice of motion came on the same day that the RockHammer group presented its plan for a downtown entertainment complex, which would include a hotel, casino and restaurants.
  • Coun. Sam Merulla will introduce a motion asking the province to encourage OLG to halt the casino process so council can have a referendum during the 2014 municipal election.

Coun. Chad Collins will vote in favour of Merulla's motion. He also wants the province to do all it can to retain the racetrack and slots at Flamboro Downs.

By 2014, Collins said, the city will know the successful bidder of a casino operation and can make an informed decision.

"It's hard to believe we're being asked to support a downtown location without knowing much, if anything, about the proposals," he said. "It's very unfortunate that the provincial process lacks transparency. The community is left wondering who's bidding. What's contained in the bids? What locations are under review? What accessory uses come with their respective casino bids?"