Local activists are planning a big, bold presence at a pair of forums this week designed to discuss the possibility of a Hamilton casino.

Citizens against the casino will wear red and carry flashlights at forums at Waterdown High School and city hall on Jan. 16 and 17. The group will hand out information and have a strong presence outside and inside of the meetings, organizer Matthew Green said.

"We want to galvanize people and we want to ask hard questions," he said.

Casino public forums:

Jan. 16: Waterdown District High School

215 Parkside Drive, Flamborough

Cogeco 23 will televise

Jan. 17: Hamilton city hall

71 Main St. W.

Cable 14 will televise

Both meetings are from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

About 40 residents brainstormed Monday evening about how to make the biggest impression at the forums.

They broke into groups to discuss how to gain public attention and draw attention to their stance, which is that a downtown casino would cause Hamilton social and economic harm. Ideas ranged from writing anti-casino messages in chalk on sidewalks outside city hall to trying to mobilize local religious leaders.

"Make no mistake — we're up against a goliath," Green told the group.

Casino operators and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation "are everywhere. They're absolutely everywhere," he said. "But they are not as committed to the city as we are."

Brian Tropea is general manager of the Ontario Harness Horse Association. The organization represents about 3,000 people involved in the horseracing industry, and about 700 of those are from Hamilton. He was at Monday's meeting.

His group will be visible at the forums to encourage councillors to support Flamboro Downs.

"There may be some horses show up at (the forums)," he said.

His members "are very desperate, and there's a sense of despair," he said. "A lot of people are trying to give horses away. There's no market for them anymore."

The education forums will be televised live and include questions from residents.

The panel will also include:

  • Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health
  • Robert Murray from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health
  • Paul Burns from the Canadian Gaming Association
  • Bruce Barbour, executive director of Flamboro Downs Horse Racing Operations
  • Hannah Holmes, professor in McMaster University's department of economics
  • Deputy Chief Ken Leenderste from Hamilton Police Service

The meetings will be livestreamed online on the city's website and shown live on Cable 14 (the city hall one) and Cogeco 23 (Flamborough). Residents can register online and submit questions for the panelists.

The forums are meant to educate people and give them a chance to ask questions, Norm Schleehahn, Hamilton's manager of business development, told CBC Hamilton last week.

"There's a lot of uncertainty with a lot of people, whether pro or against, and they just want to get things clarified," he said. "We have a great panel of experts who can answer those questions."

Carmen's Group will appear before council next month with a proposal that "could possibly include hotel amenities, gaming entertainment, multiple dining options, nightlife experiences, live shows, luxury retail offerings and museum attractions."