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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