The fix is in and we're being played - all of us, including the majority of Council.
By Graham Crawford
Published November 13, 2012
As much as I'm not a gambler, I bet the fix is in for a downtown casino. I have no insider knowledge, but I do have a gut feel and, given my waistline, that's quite a feeling.
I'd go so far as to predict that Council soon will be approving plans for a new casino - shoved down our throats by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) and the provincial Liberals, I might add - to be built at the corner of King and Bay on the parking lot of the now demolished Board of Education building.
Let me add, I wouldn't be at all surprised if an underground parking garage was being planned for the entire site from Main to King, with Mac as the leaseholder.
I'm convinced this will be the unfortunate culmination of a plan that feels as if it's been in the works for quite some time. Let's just say much longer than we've been discussing it publicly. Put simply, I believe we're being played. All of us, including the majority of Council.
I believe that no matter what Council does to try to preserve Flamboro as an active site, it will ultimately be manipulated into a game of chicken because OLG and the provincial Liberals have engineered all of the real decision-making power such that it remains firmly in the hands of OLG.
This strategy used to be referred to as "barrier selling" in sales training. You get the potential customer to agree to the first barrier before moving on to discuss the second barrier, thereby making it impossible for the prospect to go backwards.
Saying yes to a casino is the first barrier. Once we say yes to that, then barrier #2 comes into play, which is where to put it. You've already said yes that #1 is acceptable, so you can't take that off the table.
But we said Flamboro was where we wanted it, didn't we? Don't be so foolish. You're only embarrassing yourself.
I predict OLG will say: We heard you, but the operator we've selected does not believe an appropriate ROI is achievable by expanding the Flamboro site. Further, I predict it will be presented as a take it (a downtown casino and its related revenues) or leave it (receive zero revenues) situation.
As a result, I believe Council will panic and ultimately cave, saying we need to ensure we keep tax increases to zero and that we need casino revenues to do that.
Our City Council made the mistake of taking OLG-derived funding and putting it directly in general revenues. It's not a separate fund that is used to fund directly good works, as most other cities with casinos have done.
That means losing $4.5 million in OLG revenue annually would mean they would have to scramble to find it elsewhere and clearly they believe there are very few places where they can find that kind of money.
While it may take until the next Council for this fact to prove true, the year of the zero (or nearly zero) tax increase is, in my view, is a thing of the past. I say that because I simply don't believe we're managing our civic resources properly.
We don't reduce our spending. We don't ever seem to cut staff. Instead, we replace those we lose to attrition, headhunters, and employee dissatisfaction and disengagement.
With a false and misguided focus on zero tax increases no matter the "cost", we end up being held to ransom by so-called partners such as OLG. And there are others. We know who they are.
I predict the new casino at King and Bay will be connected, whether under or over ground, to the convention centre. Although the plot of land is not huge, it can be built up instead of out.
Perhaps the gaming tables, for which the citizens of Hamilton will receive absolutely $0, may be on a separate floor. Above the casino will be a hotel. Perhaps even a Las Vegas-style hotel.
Should my predictions come true, we'll have many people to thank for this.
We can start with the Premier of Ontario, no matter who that turns out to be since the current one has gone into the witness protection program.
We can thank OLG for their clever manipulation of the democratic process through the way they structured the RFQ and RFP and public consultation processes, the "modernized" financial model, and the operator selection. We can thank OLG for holding a gun to our head about a threatened deadline as recently as 40 days ago in our own Council Chambers and then pulling the gun away, saying they were only kidding, and then saying we can have until March to make the decision. Wonder who brokered that extension? Perhaps it was said that given a few more months, things could all be worked out in favour of a downtown decision?
We can thank certain members of Council who fail to realize what's being done to them.
We can thank unnamed and possibly unknown local businesspeople who are intent on doing what's best for them and not what's best for citizens, particularly those who work in the horse industry in Flamboro.
We can thank McMaster for making the deal possible.
We can thank the Board of Education for enabling the deal, although I think they are so out of touch with reality that they had no idea what was happening.
We can thank our own staff for their incompetence in negotiating a good financial deal for Hamilton. They are naive beyond comprehension. Like casting pearls before swine. They take the terms that are offered, no matter how illogical, one-sided, or indefensible.
We can thank all of them for the loss of rural-based employment to the tune of 3,000 jobs that are involved directly in the horse industry.
So many people to thank, but I'll stop there lest I be forced to hire a lawyer. As I said at the beginning, these are merely personal predictions on my part and that I have no insider information.
P.S. Bob Bratina mused to Councillor Judi Partridge yesterday at the Casino Sub-Committee meeting that they could possibly take Hamilton's OLG-derived funds and invest them in the horse racing industry in Flamboro. Let that piece of brilliance sink in: build a downtown casino and then take all of the proceeds to keep the industry alive that you killed by building the casino downtown. Leadership comes in many forms.
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