Chamber of Commerce survey says 67% oppose standalone downtown casino

A survey conducted by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce showed split opinions on a casino.

Coun. McHattie: 'Ward 1 not passionate about a casino at all in Hamilton'

Chamber of Commerce members we're divided on where and what kind of casino they might support. (Kevin Gamble/CBC)

A Hamilton Chamber of Commerce survey released Wednesday shows its members are divided on where and what kind of casino they'd like to see — if any — in the city. 

About half of the 453 respondants said they would support a casino at the existing Flamborough location, while 23 per cent were opposed to Flamborough and 23 per cent said they were indifferent.

While 67 per cent were against a standalone downtown casino, 46 per cent said they would be in favour if the casino development included a hotel and entertainment facility.

"There were a number of things that surprised me," David Adames, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, told CBC Hamilton.

"First was that 72 per cent felt they had enough information to make an informed decision, because early on we had many members saying they don't know enough to have an opinion."

He also found it surprising that the results closely mirrored the decision made by council last week by showing preference for a Flamborough site, while keeping the door open for other options.

"I thought it might be a bit more divided and maybe skewed to downtown, but that wasn't the case."

Fifteen per cent of respondents supported a casino somewhere other than downtown or Flamborough, a percentage that was lower than Adames expected. The most popular suggested locations were the East Mountain area and the waterfront, he said.

Respondents also made suggestions about how the city ought to allocate revenue generated by a potential casino. The most common responses were investing in infrastructure and addressing social issues, Adames said, "including those potentially caused by the casino itself."

RockHammer not surprised

The results of the survey were not all that surprising to RockHammer, the group behind a proposal for a $200-million entertainment complex in downtown Hamilton, according to Mark McSporran, communications representative for RockHammer.

He said RockHammer also consulted with local businesses when creating its proposal, but only asked specifically about its own intended complex. RockHammer was pleased with some of the responses from the chamber survey, he added.

"If you look at the reasons why they said they would support a casino — the economic benefit, city revenue, tourism — that's everything our vision encapsulated," he said.

He added it was encouraging to see more business owners would support a downtown casino if it included an entertainment complex rather than a standalone facility.

"We were very pleased to see that. It's exactly what we want as well, to create these complementary business clusters."

Adames presented the results of the survey to council Wednesday morning, but councillors were not necessarily swayed by the results.

Ward 1 councilor Brian McHattie said the results didn't reflect what he's been hearing in his Ward.

"Ward 1 is not particularly passionate about a casino at all in Hamilton," he said. "I think there are all sorts of other players in this game. We've heard from the neighbourhood associations downtown. The arts community downtown has been very vocal. (We've heard from) all the folks we've had here before us."

McHattie went on to say that he thinks a hotel is possible in Flamborough, and if the business community knew the complex could happen there, it might change their opinion.

"I think they're being presented with a  false choice. I think we can do Flamborough with additional features, and I think their votes would be a little different if that was the case."   Jason Farr, Ward 2 councilor, said that regardless of the survey, council has unanimous support for a Flamborough location.

"I always appreciate that angle. I always appreciate the chamber of commerce offering the perspective from the business folks," he said. "But to be honest, I just saw (the survey) and I haven't been able to look at it any further."

The survey — conducted between January 30 and February 15 — found most respondents ranked the economic benefit of jobs and tax revenue as their top reason for supporting a casino. Social and moral concerns were their top reasons to oppose a casino.

Of the respondents, 51.4 per cent were business owners and 37 per cent were managers. The majority, 41.7 per cent, were located in downtown Hamilton, while the second-highest number of respondents were from the mountain.