Casino meeting drew many, swayed few, attendees say

Members from both the pro and con side of the Hamilton casino debate said it was unlikely the information meeting changed anybody's mind.
A crowd of about 400 packed into the cramped council chambers and spilled into the foyer at Thursday's nights public forum on the Hamilton casino proposal. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Thursday night's casino information meeting at city hall drew one of nearly 400, but it's unlikely to have swayed anybody's opinion, attendees said.

"There are clearly two sides to this issue, which makes it both interesting and complicated at the same time," Larry Di Ianni, former mayor and pro-casino proponent, said. 

Though he didn't go to the meeting in person, he watched the livestream.

"Last night was all about theatrics: who can shout the loudest, who can wave their sign. Engagement is good, but we need to look at the facts."

The room was filled with vocal proponents and opponents of the casino, who asked questions of the panelists and occasionally allowed their enthusiasm to spill over into shouts or jeers. Most attendees said they were pleased with the discussion and turnout, including Matt Jelly, one of the members of the "CasiNO" campaign.

"I thought both meetings were reasonably well presented," he said, adding, "I would be worried if a room were empty on a night like that."

Neither side was without their criticism, however.

Jelly pointed out that there was a lack of voices from social service perspectives, and he felt some members of the "yes" side were reverting to classist language.

Di Ianni believed the debate sometimes degraded into gambling discussions, rather than focusing on a casino.

Decision still looming

Mayor Bob Bratina said he felt the meeting achieved its objective of further educating both the public and the councillors, who have the weight of the decision on their shoulders as the OLG's March deadline for a decision on the Hamilton casino looms.

"I thought it was an excellent reflection of how Hamiltonians are interested in following through this process: getting information, putting in their own information so that we as councillors can finally make our decision on what we're going to do with the casino issue," he said.

The mayor faced some criticism for not attending the first part of the meeting, but said he was watching from home. He did this both to get a taste for the new formats, such as a telephone line streaming the meeting, but also to avoiding distracting from the discussion or seeming to sway it one way or another, he said.

Right now, Bratina said the council has to collect more information still before they'll be ready to make a decision. While local businessman PJ Mercanti, co-owner of Carmen’s Group, has submitted a proposal to the city for a casino in Hamilton, Bratina said there are likely more submissions to follow and council needs to consider all options before making a decision.

"We need to know what we would be saying 'no' to."