The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) says it's now or never if Hamilton wants a casino.
Larry Flynn, senior vice-president of gaming, told councillors in a letter Thursday that the OLG can't wait until 2014 for a referendum, nor will it help the city fund one before then.
The OLG "will continue to move forward to implement our modernization plan and related procurement activities," Flynn wrote.
"We remain optimistic that Hamilton council will consider its options and make a decision in a timely way."
Flynn appeared before the city's general issues committee earlier this week. The committee asked him to look into extending the OLG's lease at Flamboro Downs — where it currently operates 801 slots — beyond March 2013.
Doing this would give the city time to put the casino question on the ballot during the 2014 municipal election.
But Flynn told councillors Thursday that there is no money to help the city with a referendum, and that the OLG needs a timely answer.
"We're not able to suspend the implementation," spokesperson Tony Bitonti said.
Coun. Sam Merulla says he's going to move quickly to see if there's support for a referendum amongst fellow councillors.
Flynn's response was "pathetically unacceptable and inept" and "the questions are still unanswered," he said.
"I am left with no choice but to move quickly on determining support for a referendum from council since we've been entirely removed from the process and have no control, which disempowers our city and its residents."
The letter gives councillors something to think about, said Mayor Bob Bratina.
"Now that we have a response from the OLG, council will need to discuss the impacts and any possible risk to our city," he said in an email.
The OLG will continue to answer any other questions the city has, Bitonti said. The letter did not specifically address extending the lease at Flamboro Downs.
The process of getting a casino does require getting input from the public, he said. Other communities have opted for other methods besides a referendum, such as open houses or online polls.
So far, 33 municipalities have expressed interest in a casino, he said.