Special Report: Casino

Everything's Coming Up Merulla

Councillor Sam Merulla's early and vocal opposition to a downtown Hamilton casino is looking less headstrong and more prescient with each passing day.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 12, 2013

Circumstances seem to be lining up for Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla, whose early and vocal opposition to a downtown Hamilton casino is looking less headstrong and more prescient with each passing day.

After promising a motion to demand that the Ontario Government allow Hamilton to hold a referendum on the casino question, Merulla dropped the motion this week after learning that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) is prepared to accept a decision that Flamboro Downs is the only site for a Hamilton casino.

He sent an email to local media on Friday, February 8, stating in part:

In light of the OLG committing to pursuing the RFP process respecting our autonomously made decision of a Flamborough site, any extension is redundant in the truest meaning of the word and I formally thank the OLG for this commitment.

OLG just agreed to a request from the Mayor's office for a one-month extension to the deadline for Hamilton to formulate a casino policy.

Important Clarification

This new communication from OLG is important because it clarifies, for the first time, that OLG is willing to work within the City of Hamilton's casino parameters even if that entails restricting the location to Flamborough.

Previously, it was broadly hinted but never explicitly stated that if Hamilton rejected a downtown location, it would lose out on a casino altogether and City revenues would lose the $4.5 million a year in slot revenues.

The OLG Slots at Racetracks program that currently uses slot machine revenue to support the horce racing industry was set to run out at the end of March, but the Province appears to have established a precedent with a funding agreement for Woodbine Racetrack that would allow such facilities to continue.

Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin has said that the Woodbine deal is a template for the Province's negotiations with Flamboro Downs.

With the announcement by OLG that the casino commission will entertain bids to run a Flamborough casino, the risk of refusing to allow a downtown location is mitigated.

'Crack Dealers' and 'Trusted Councilors'

Merulla caused a stir in December when he compared the OLG to "crack dealers" over their strategy to move casinos closer to vulnerable populations, including their push for Hamilton to allow a new casino in the downtown core. (Other observers have also called slot machines "the crack of gambling".)

PJ Mercanti, whose company is planning to partner on a casino/hotel/entertainment complex bid, complained about Merulla's comment in an email to a list of "Trusted Councilors [sic]" that included Mayor Bob Bratina. Mercanti wrote, "this type of comment gives a black eye to all of council, and paints an unpleasant picture of all Hamiltonians."

Mercanti requested that the City distance itself from Merulla's comments, suggesting that the City "issue a public statement stating that Councilor [sic] Merulla’s comments are not reflective of the thoughts or opinions of the City of Hamilton, its staff, its councilors [sic], or its Mayor."

In response, the Mayor forwarded Mercanti's email to all of council and asked for comments on his offer to issue the statement: "Councillor Merulla’s comments are not reflective of the thoughts or opinions of the City of Hamilton, its staff, its councilors [sic], or myself as Mayor."

Merulla, in turn, forwarded the emails to local media, defending his use of the "crack dealer" analogy and calling Bratina's point "moot" since it is "obvious" that "individual comments of a council member are not the formal comments of the City of Hamilton, unless of course there is a corresponding resolution of council."

Controversy erupted over the propriety of the Mayor issuing a public statement regarding the casino debate that was a verbatim quote from a casino lobbyist - right down to the misspelling of "councillor". The Mayor never did issue a public retraction of Merulla's comments.

GIC Rant

Merulla turned more heads at the February 6, 2013 General Issues Committee meeting after one of the RockHammer presenters, Sizzle Club owner Dean Collett, said that holding a referendum amounts to councillors "shirking your responsibility".

Merulla retorted, "If you understood the issue, we made a decision in April of 2012 as Flamborough being our site. We are now being manipulated, and we have been manipulated, to change that site. I was decisive when I voted in April of 2012 and I believe the majority of this council was. To suggest otherwise is shirking your intelligence, frankly, and I frankly don't appreciate that."

The gallery erupted in applause, though Councillor Brad Clark raised a point of order to object to the way Merulla spoke to the delegates.

Merulla also leveled sharp criticism at Mayor Bratina, saying he "manipulates and distorts issues" and accusing him of changing his mind. "He's had three positions on the stadium, he's had three positions on the horse race industry, he's had two positions on the casino. Frankly, we need to call him on the carpet: where does he stand?"

Merulla waved at the empty Mayor's chair. "I said, Bob, you'd better not go anywhere, and like usual, he's not here. Where's Bob?"

After the meeting, Merulla shared an email from Peggy Chapman, Mayor Bratina's chief of staff, asking Merulla to "reword the motion so the Mayor can have it considered by other mayors in the province in the same situation."

Strong Opinions

Merulla has never shied from strong opinions, and he's easily the most accessible member of City Council. While some councillors grumble about "usual suspects" using new media to comment on civic affairs, Merulla sends frequent emails to local news media and participates actively on twitter.

He is alternately inspiring and infuriating - though this tends to depend on whether you agree or disagree with him on a given issue - but there is no denying his willingness to take a stand, own it and defend it against criticism.

When it comes to leadership, Council has been mostly rudderless for the past two years. In the matter of the casino, Merulla has stepped into the power vacuum and created the space for a real debate to take place.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:27:06

Q: What measures would prevent a gaming facility from moving within the market, as long as it were to respect municipal zoning?

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:27:55

I juste wonder if city hall takes Flamboro for the new Casino site will there be any bids comming forward for that site

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By enough already (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:32:41 in reply to Comment 86183

Enough with the fake speech impediment.

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By ??? (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:33:51

I cant believe how patronizing the councillors are regarding the casino!How stupid their constitients are and need to be protected by such wise people such as Sam murella
!

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By Laura Farr (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:41:57

The city would need to pass a zoning by-law, and the easiest way to do that would be to zone one specific area for gaming establishments.

A similar measure to that was put forward for body rub parlours and strip clubs in 2007-2008, and again in 2011, but neither motion ever went anywhere.

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By Megan (registered) | Posted February 13, 2013 at 09:01:48 in reply to Comment 86186

Page 6 & 7 of the City staff's report going to GIC tomorrow outlines were a Gaming Facility could currently be located: http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/48C2...

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 12, 2013 at 15:14:40 in reply to Comment 86186

I asked City staff to identify where it states this in our zoning By-Laws, and was told that any zone in 05-200 that permits Commercial Entertainment may include a Casino as one of the possible uses.

Does a zoning by-law have to be passed when zone 05-200 is already zoned for gaming? Or is the area zoned but any building that wishes to house an OLG facility would still have to apply for an individual building to be re-zoned for gaming?

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:52:03 in reply to Comment 86186

Thanks Laura ... but can you see someone spending that kind of money like 200 or 100 million dollars out in a farm land

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By Proposal (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:44:14

We've heard nothing in regards to other bids coming forward. If they are, when are they going to present them to council..

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 13, 2013 at 08:34:13 in reply to Comment 86187

I hear you on that ... but im just asking and i should aske you at the same time , do you think that a bidderwhould spend 200 or 100 millions dollar investement in a farmland

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:50:13

In case you're losing track of the referendum timeline:

Apr 21, 2012
http://www.flamboroughreview.com/news/ndp-leader-calls-for-vote-on-casino/

Aug 14, 2012
http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/779783--there-have-been-secret-talks-about-local-casino

Sept 19, 2012
http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/2012/09/19/hamilton-gambling.html

Oct 10, 2012
http://ontariondp.com/en/ndp-leader-andrea-horwath-calls-for-municipal-referendum-to-approve-new-casino-projects

Jan 21, 2013
http://www.hamiltonnews.com/news/casino-referendum-back-on-the-table/

Feb 9, 2013
http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/883630--merulla-dropping-downtown-casino-referendum-motion


And points to Flamborough councillor Judi Patridge for driving the original pro-Flamboro motion in April 2012.

http://www.flamboroughreview.com/news/council-votes-to-support-flamboro-downs/

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:55:49

It's interesting that the Spectator has experienced late-day self-doubt.

http://www.thespec.com/opinion/editorial/article/754885--casino-in-hamilton-burlington-is-a-bad-bet

http://www.thespec.com/opinion/editorial/article/883721--is-flamborough-really-a-casino-option

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By Jack (registered) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 14:04:45

Let what I have to say here be a warning, though I myself of course have no authority over anyone. However, I say the following based on an understanding of ancient tradition that applies especially to our day, and here and now. What I have to say is the following:

Anyone who works towards this end of building a casino is nothing less of a short-sighted, evil-doer. To profit off of the suffering of individuals is nothing short of evil, and those who do so need to remember they will face their Lord and have to answer for their deeds. I advise you and myself to fear God, to be conscientious of the Creator and Sustainer of us and the entire universe. Do not spread corruption on the earth. Do not make it easy for people to destroy themselves, through enabling addiction. Do not make it easy through the making of a casino for people to distract themselves from greater things, to prevent them from reaching their full potential in life.

No one ever engages in any wrong action, such as gambling, or becoming intoxicated, except that it harms their own soul/ psyche, and has a ripple effect on those around them. Ultimately, everyone ends up paying for this, whether through more taxes due to increased need for health care or social service programs or through crime and victimization.

I advise you to not prey on people. Do not kill individuals, families, and communities by promoting this kind of so-called entertainment in which the majority of people suffer and only a few make 'profit'. But if only those who profit from such evil knew, and they will soon come to know, that such 'profit' will not be of any benefit to them in front of God, but instead it will be the cause of their regret and misery. They engage in a foolish trade indeed. Please, take heed, for yourselves, and for your own offspring, before it is too late.

It is said that if it were not for the animals, God would prevent the rain from falling due to the sins of mankind. Who can be so sure that God might not send us a storm so great so as to render such 'development' into nothing but regret? Be mindful of the Creator and Sustainer of the earth. For those who may scoff/ ridicule at this message, know that you will have no excuse before your Maker that you were not warned.

May God's peace be with all of you.

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By Woody10 (registered) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 23:40:56 in reply to Comment 86193

If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. - Albert Einstein

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By temper temper (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 14:14:36 in reply to Comment 86193

OT and I like what you say about not preying on people, but what kind of god angrily inflicts storms and disasters on people when he's angry at them? When my 2 year old does that I call it a temper tantrum and give him some time out to settle down.

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By Jack (registered) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 15:31:55 in reply to Comment 86194

God did not create us to destroy ourselves, just like you don't want your two year old child to harm him/herself. If your child does something you warn against (which is really only for their own good), you might decide to with hold his/her weekly allowance money, not because you are being temperamental/ upset, but because you may want to teach your child a lesson (i.e. actions have consequences) or because you don't want to enable your child to do something that is harmful to him/herself. Ultimately, as a parent what you do for your child will be for their own benefit. Really, you and I are not worthy of the blessing God grants us every single day, despite out ingratitude and careless attitude towards our Creator and Sustainer.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 12, 2013 at 15:31:34 in reply to Comment 86194

I agree gambling isn't good for our communities. Of any kind. Saying that I have gone to Casino's, Bingo Halls, buy the occasional scratch ticket or pro line ticket. Bottom line is we all want to win more than we invested. The big one is likely all of our dreams. The odds are definitely stacked against us.

I don't believe in God but I also don't believe in the OLG. Pretty sad when you can't morally support a government agency. Isn't it?

I have said it before and I'll re-iterate it. We have a local Hamilton lottery. $1 a week. Even if 100,000 residents jump on board, that's a $50K pot for the winner and $50K for a operating costs for the lottery, and the rest to our municipal taxes.

Each resident/married/common-law partner can only win once. Winner's name is recorded so if couple separates, former spouse/partner can still win. Separation costs are a killer.

A chance to pay back all debts and perhaps that should be a stipulation to help reduce Canada's consumer debt, that credit cards and loans be paid off first.

A great way to help citizen's start over. Perhaps the lottery is for people/families under a certain income?

If you win, you are still required to pay into the lottery for the rest of your time in Hamilton. Think of it. Evan at 90 years of age at $1 a week, it would still be under $5K lifetime investment. So your $5K invested still paid out $45K.

We need to actually help people. We obviously need that $5M a year subsidy from Flamborough plus those jobs so is there a way to build something that would generate taxes and create employment that would near that amount if we lose OLG completely?

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By casinos Hamilton and,or Toronto(?) (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 14:26:51

Remember that Toronto and Rob Ford's desired 'casino'--gambling place--is in play too. OLG needs new "players" to replace those citizens who get "tapped out": people who have become broke$$. Rob Ford's election over-spending and illegal spending are being examined by an audit panel. Remember that over-spending in a campaign has potentially--and rightly--harsh penalties; whether they get applied or not is another matter that will need Kathleen Wynne's gov't to re-examine Ont. Munic. Conflict Act and Elections Act.
THEREFORE Ford in Toronto is weaker than his council is--and maybe no casino/gambling den in Toronto. So, if no 'Casino' to Toronto, bigger pressure in and on Hamilton. Resist!

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 15:39:37 in reply to Comment 86195

If "No" in Toronto, I think there will be bigger pressure on immediately surrounding municipalities (Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughn, etc.) to host a casino to pick up that lucrative Toronto market.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 17:41:54 in reply to Comment 86203

If Hamilton is floated as a potential site for a megacasino, this will all get very interesting. Like the third act of a tragedy.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 15:38:31

Wasn't the mayor under some kind of a council order not to engage with provincial agencies unless expressly authorized to do so by council? (I seem to recall something to this effect).

Is that still the case, and if so, when did council authorize the Mayor to request a further extension from the OLG?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 16:05:28 in reply to Comment 86201

I'm sure somebody authorized him, but it wasn't council. They only found out after the fact.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 12, 2013 at 15:56:30

I also meant to comment on the article itself. I agree with Clr Clark to a degree about pouncing on delegates but let's be honest, I and likely many of us would have same response to this:

RockHammer presenters, Sizzle Club owner Dean Collett, said that holding a referendum amounts to councillors "shirking your responsibility

Their responsibility is to their constituents and I think it's in their every right to insist that a previous referendum vote that resulted in a resounding no from constituents, be re-iterated or reversed only as the result of a new referendum unless of course, council stands firm on it's Flamborough only position.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 17:51:11

There is no need for a massive resort hotel in Flamboro. Simply expand enough to allow for the table games. Done.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted February 13, 2013 at 08:09:40

"City seeks more clarity from OLG" by Andrew Dreschel on thespec.com today: http://www.thespec.com/opinion/columns/a...

"Keep an open mind when it comes to casino location" by Councillor Tom Jackson on the Hamilton Community News website: http://www.hamiltonnews.com/opinion/comm...

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2013-02-13 08:09:58

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted February 13, 2013 at 19:29:13

According to this article titled "Merulla: Revised casino motion leaves door open if Flamboro not 'viable site'" by Emma Reilly on thespec.com, Councillor Merulla has made a deal with other councillors to add a provision to his motion tomorrow which would allow council to explore other casino locations in Hamilton if potential casino operators who pass the OLG qualification process demonstrate that Flamboro Downs is not a viable site: http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2013-02-13 20:08:53

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2013 at 08:02:52 in reply to Comment 86268

"I was decisive when I voted in April of 2012 and I believe the majority of this council was."

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 13, 2013 at 21:27:03 in reply to Comment 86268

Joey Coleman has an article titled "Council to vote unanimously for new casino compromise motion: Merulla":

Merulla says Council will vote for Flamborough as the only location they’ll consider bids for. Council will not consider bids from downtown – at this time.

If no bids come forth for Flamborough, Merulla says then Council will have to consider all locations in Hamilton.

When asked if no bids in Flamborough means a downtown location, Merulla stated all options will be on the table, but he does not expect there will be no bids for Flamborough Downs.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted February 13, 2013 at 21:31:26

This reworded motion of Councillor Merulla's that will preceed Councillor Partridges request to the province will be Council's way of saying, 'We tried.'
Province will not change or reconsider the Greenbelt if they know a DT Casino is in the best interest of their own coffers and still available to them as an option!
Hence, they will turn to the constituents and blame the province for Flamborough's unlikely readability.
Had the wording not left the door open I would not feel this way.
I hope to wrong! #Truestory
Kudos to Councillor McHattie should he choose to speak to this tomorrow.

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