Hamilton councillors would like the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) to look into extending its lease at Flamboro Downs until the city can hold a referendum on whether residents want a casino.

The city's general issues committee voted Wednesday to send Larry Flynn, OLG's senior vice-president of gaming, back to the province and the corporation's board with some questions.

Among them is whether the lease in Flamborough, where the OLG has 801 slots, can be extended beyond March 2013 to give the city time for a referendum.

Flamboro Downs by the numbers

  • The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation has around $100 million in captial invested in Flamboro
  • Property features 800 slot machines
  • Annual slot revenue is $123 million
  • 225 full-time OLG employees
  • 175 full-time GCGC employees
  • 250 full-time horseracing employees (per race day)
  • 72 per cent of employees reside in Hamilton

Source: GCGC

"We just want to put the brakes on to try to understand what's going on in a process that hasn't included us so far," said Coun. Sam Merulla, who moved the motion.

The OLG is examining its gaming sites around the province, looking at where it can establish tables and slots in specific zones. The local zone includes Hamilton and Burlington.

As part of the revamp, the OLG is eliminating its Slots at Racetracks program, which includes the slots at Flamboro Downs. Those provide the city with about $4.4 million in revenue a year.

The OLG's lease with Flamboro Downs ends in March. But councillors said they want more time than that to make a decision — possibly enough time to hold a referendum during the municipal election of 2014.

Merulla's resolution also asks for the province to pick up the cost of a referendum if it happens before 2014.

Flynn said he will look into it and report back in four weeks.

The OLG operates 24 casinos in Ontario, including in Windsor, Milton, Niagara Falls and Brantford.

If a casino was established in Hamilton, it would be run by a private sector operator, Flynn said.

To proceed, the OLG needs a resolution saying that it "welcomes gaming" throughout the zone, not just at Flamboro Downs, which is owned by the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC), he said.

A referendum is not required.

"We need you to demonstrate (that interest) to us and we ask that you find ways to ensure it's all encompassing," he said.

The committee also voted to establish a sub-committee to advise a potential request for proposals for private sector operators.

GCGC president and CEO Rod Baker told council it would be a multi-year process to set up a new casino in Hamilton.

"So if there's going to be gaming in Hamiton in the next number of years, it's going to be at Flamboro Downs," Baker said. "Or if you guys approve it, it's going to be in a tent. But we're working very hard to make sure it's not in a tent."

He said GCGC's quickest casino build was in Chilliwack, B.C., and that took 18 months.

"But that's lightning fast, and for a fairly simple, small property."