Edgar’s posters have become the symbol of the No! Downtown Hamilton Casino group, a collection of activists, businesses owners and Hamiltonians that is extensively involved in raising awareness about the casino. Graham Crawford, owner of the Hamilton HIStory + HERitage storefront museum on James North, is a prominent member of the No! Downtown Casino group and has made a different poster opposing the casino every day for nearly the last two months.

“I’m almost embarrassed to say to people how little time it takes to make the posters,” said Crawford modestly. “I can’t draw, so the posters become my editorial cartoons because you don’t have to have much skill to make a poster.”

Crawford’s posters, which he shares through his Facebook page, make it clear that the result of the casino debate is something he cares deeply about. But the posters have convinced a lot of other people to care as well.

“My first ‘the new Hamilton’ poster focused on Supercrawl,” said Crawford, “and even I am social media savvy enough to know that when you get 236 shares in one day about something local that doesn’t involve cats it’s a big deal. The reach of the poster was probably tens of thousands. I’ve never had anything shared that much, ever.”

Everything that has changed James North over the last few years – the galleries, art crawl, Supercrawl – has done so slowly, deliberately and empathetically. Downtown Hamilton has showed us is that there’s a way for development to be good for everyone. Countless arts programs like Roots 2Leaf, the Urban Arts Initiative and Hamilton Artists for Social Change are dedicated to addressing poverty in many forms. What makes Crawford’s Supercrawl poster so affecting to so many people is that it puts into stark contrast Hamilton’s recent downtown development and the type of development that a casino represents - fast, less engaged with the rest of the city and harmful to at least some.

“A casino is completely inward facing by design, not by accident,” said Crawford. “Once they get you in there they don’t want you to leave. It’s why there are no windows. It’s why there are no clocks.”

Certainly PJ Mercanti, one of the main people involved in the proposed casino, is not evil. I’m sure he doesn’t see the city as just a source of income. It’s just that his vision and Crawford’s vision for the future of Hamilton are fundamentally different. One will probably never agree with the other, no matter how much debate. But even if a resolution will never be reached, at least there are people who care enough the city to see that it’s worth arguing about.

Katherine Abell / The Silhouette

Who the hell do we think we are?

Whose opinion matters and whose does not when discussing a change that will affect an entire city? Most people would say that if it involves everyone, then everyone’s opinion should be taken as seriously as anyone else’s. The Hamilton Spectator published a quote from Peter Mercanti saying,  “Who are these people? What is their background? What have they done? They get almost all the same weight as the people who really count. It shocks me.”

This statement got such an outcry that by lunchtime the piece was taken down off their website. I am not going to say if I agree with a casino in downtown or not. What I do not agree with is the idea that one person’s opinion is more valuable than another.

An opinion may be more informed or the person feels that their opinion carries more weight since it is in their backyard or they have experience in that area. Those things may be true when discussing the best way to grow a crop or what computer program works best for what you want to do. When a decision affects the whole community, I think that every person who lives in that community should have a say.  Lawmakers and those community members should work together and find what works best for everyone. Will everyone be happy? No. Will these decisions be easy? No. Mercanti asks, “who are these people? What is their background?”

Maybe I should talk about Peter Mercanti. He won Hamilton citizen of the year in 2010. He owns Carmen’s banquet center and holds the high opinion of the community that he lives in. I can understand the arrogance that goes into his statement. He has accomplished much and has been recognized for his accomplishments. What I don’t understand is his assumption that his opinion is the only valid one and that any intelligent person must obviously share his opinion. It reeks of self-importance and a delusion of infallibility.

Worse, it seems classist and elitist, like the bourgeoisie of old looking down their noses at the poor, dumb proletariats. Who do they think they are, anyway?  They only live in the area that will be affected by that casino. They should be grateful that the wise old folks in charge deem them worthy of the crumbs from their table.

The casino is a volatile issue, which has people’s emotions running high. Mercanti’s comment has just driven a wedge between the two factions of the argument, sending the message that the voice of the common person falls on deaf ears and that the upper echelons of power are going to do what they want in the end, regardless of the cries of protest.

This begs the question: is Mr. Mercanti’s opinion shared by the city planners, and if so, do our elected officials actually serve the wishes of the people who elected them or is democracy an illusion to soothe the masses?

While snow was flurrying outside, hundreds of Hamiltonians were packed into Council Chambers inside City Hall on Jan. 16 for public consultation on the proposal for a casino in downtown Hamilton.

The event became standing room only as a crowd gathered outside the chambers to peer into the proceedings.

Inside the Council Chambers there was a sea of black and red signs representing the “Say NO to Downtown Casino” campaign, with sparse pockets of the yellow and black signs of the casino supporters.

Several speakers opposed plans for a downtown casino, and they were met with loud applause.

Robert Murray from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health discussed how close proximity to a casino aggravates problem gambling habits.

Hannah Holmes, a professor in economics at Mac, conducted an economic analysis of a downtown casino and discussed the pros and cons at the event. Her ultimate conclusion, that the negative implications outweighed the positive economic benefits, was met with applause.

“A Hamilton casino could only be a success if it could become a destination casino, attracting tourists,” said Holmes.

“This is not likely to happen. I think local businesses stand a possibility of losing out if locals spend money at the casino instead of in their communities.”

Bruce Barbour, representing Flamborough Downs, Hamilton’s only current large-scale gaming operation, spoke about the 400 direct jobs provided by Flamborough Downs, and how slots and horse racing will cease to exist there as of March 31.

While Barbour sought to inform the audience about the issues facing Flamborough Downs and its staff, Paul Burns, from the Canadian Gaming Association, took a much clearer lobbying approach to address concerns over a downtown casino in Hamilton.

Despite heckling from the audience and clamour that erupted multiple times throughout Burns’ speech, he remained adamant that a casino would be profitable and not detrimental to the community.

“The question tonight isn’t ‘should casino gaming be allowed in the greater Hamilton area.’ That’s already been answered in the affirmative, with facilities in the Hamilton-area for the past decade … Gaming is an entertainment choice, a choice that is enjoyed responsibly by the overwhelming majority of people who choose to play.”

These remarks were met with open opposition from the audience, with one attendee exclaiming, “It’s more than a choice; you’re marketing to the poor.”

The Carmens Group, managed by the Mercanti family, has announced its interest in bidding for the casino development, and have said they are partnering with the Hard Rock Café.

The group plans to publicly announce their partners and plans on Feb. 6.

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