Special Report: Casino

Hamilton: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

I'm writing out of fear that, if they put a casino in our core, all the jokes and comments that people make about our beautiful city will come true.

By Lauren E
Published February 08, 2013

I did not grow up in Hamilton. I used to drive through on occasion to visit my Aunt and Uncle and would often remark on the smell of sulfur and the smoke stacks that seemed to belch huge clouds into an otherwise clear sky. I thought it was a dirty city, an unambitious city. I called it "Hammer Town" and snickered like everyone else I grew up with.

Then I moved here two years ago and I fell in love with every nook and cranny of it. From Locke Street to Barton Street, from Westdale to Ottawa Street, I love it all. But above all things, I fell in love with the core.

Everyday I'm both humbled and enchanted by the people, artists and businesses I encounter downtown. The passion and the ambition and the desire to make Hamilton the best place is can be. I'm astounded at the encouragement and support that is handed out freely and happily to anyone that wants to be a part of making that happen.

The people of this city seem to look past exteriors and into the depths of possibility, into a future they want to create. They look at a dilapidated building and instead see a dream waiting to come to life.

Then they do the most important thing of all: they take action.

This is what makes the crucial difference. Hamiltonians take action and turn a possibility into an opportunity and then they make that opportunity a reality. Maybe it's the strong sense of community that drives us, that makes us feel like we cannot fail with so many behind us.

Maybe it's because it's so affordable and you truly feel like you can take a chance on yourself and not lose everything. Maybe it's both of those things. But I think the real reason is because it's time.

It's Hamilton's time to shine and to grow and to do so organically. If it's built on the dreams and with the hands of the people that are committed to the betterment of themselves and their city, it will blossom beyond any of our wildest dreams.

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come
— Victor Hugo.

PJ Mercanti used that same paraphrase, except he was referring to the potential opening of a downtown Casino. Unfortunately the idea whose time has come is not his idea. It's ours.

Hamiltonian's don't only see past the exteriors of decrepit buildings, they also see through the veneer of flashy sales pitches. We see through catchphrases and we see through patchy statistics. We know what it takes to make our downtown great because we're doing it. Every day we work towards a better Hamilton.

We strive to create a more liveable and enjoyable core. A place to walk your dog, to take your kids, to ride your bike, to have a coffee, to buy something fresh, to smile at someone you know, to be a part of your community.

Not to put money in a slot machine. Not to eat at the Hard Rock Café.

We won't only take action to create a better city, but we will also take action to protect it, and protect it fiercely.

Do I think casinos are evil? No. Do I think the idea is bad? No.

But do I think it belongs downtown? No.

Speaking as someone who is looking to both open a business and buy a home in the core, I am completely honest when I say that I would do neither if a casino was to open there. It has no appeal to me as a home owner, business owner or potential customer.

And I'm sure there are others just like me who feel the same. The city needs to be cautious about any decisions they make that could in any way discourage organic and sustainable growth in our core.

Because without it, where would we be? Without the change created by these small and mighty Hamiltonians, our downtown would be nothing but a shadow of what it has become today, what it is working feverishly to become tomorrow.

Don't scare them away.

I've taken day trips to Niagara. I've never walked their strip and eaten at a quaint local restaurant or shopped in a sweet little boutique.

Because I couldn't find any.

It's fast food and currency exchange and gift shops and tattoo parlors. You don't go to the Niagara Falls strip for the arts and culture, you go for the flash and gimmick. To eat at Copacabana, to visit Ripley's Believe It Or Not, to ride the giant Ferris wheel. To me, it's always felt like a caricature, a carnival.

I don't want that for my city.

I'm writing out of fear that, if they put a casino in our core, all the jokes and comments that people make about our beautiful city will come true. I'm afraid that we will become the image that we've fought so hard to rise above.

I'm writing out of fear that those who can afford it least will lose the most. I've been to Vegas, I've won on slots, I know how it feels to see all that money come from nowhere and that little voice in my head that said "just keep playing, you could win so much more".

I've had drinks handed to me in an effort to keep me playing, to stop me from walking away from a table. It was terrifying and it was the last time I ever went to a casino.

Sometimes I go to the A&W on King Street and every so often I see a homeless man emptying his cup on the table and counting his change to see if he has enough to afford a meal. My fear is that one day those coins could end up going into a slot machine.

Will the Hard Rock Café buy him dinner when he loses the money he was supposed to spend on food?

I always tell people to come to Hamilton, come downtown, see the changes, see the growth and experience it for themselves because I'm so full of pride. If there was a casino here, I don't think I would make the same invitation. I can't envision a downtown casino that would make me proud.

I shop in Jackson Square, I get my smoothies on James North, I eat Vietnamese food on Cannon once a week, I buy vinyl at Dr. Disc, I walk to the Farmers Market, I sit in the stands at Copps, I pace up and down the street during Art Crawl.

I may have only been here a short while, but this is my city too.

Entrepreneur by day, waitress by night, passionate Hamiltonian at any hour. Loves old books, small dogs and Dundurn Castle.

24 Comments

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By Fraser (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 08:47:23

Lauren, I was compelled to comment by the eloquence of your article.

We're currently renting an apartment and trying our hardest to buy a house in the core (we've been outbid on 5 homes now, all going above the listing price). We love the urban element that Hamilton offers. We love that the urban element is wrapped by such natural beauty. We love the vibrancy that is emerging throughout neighborhoods across the downtown.

Organic growth is fragile. We should nurture what has started.

Thanks for sharing these thoughts. My wife and I are in the same boat as you.

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 09:02:56

Part of Hamilton's charm is its grit. It feels REAL. In Canada, I first lived in Toronto and then St Catharines before relocating with my family to Hamilton 11 years ago. We are not moving away, and we have watched with great interest as the city has changed and improved over these years, especially recent years.

The level of civic engagement here is encouraging, and it is growing. Knowing that some very smart people out there think like I do is what keeps me going, even when public policy decisions don't always go the way I think they should. There are a lot of competing visions for Hamilton's future, and this casino debate is bringing those to the fore. The growing dialogue (dare I use that word?) is about much more than just a casino. Bring on that debate, I say!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 09:17:41

Well said Lauren although I do believe using Casinos to fund a Province is a bad idea, however I do stop short of calling them evil. Some of the carpet patterns used in Casinos though are surely the work of the devil.

I know it is not always easy but we just need to be patient. The grassroots, local, small business, artist/creative driven change is happening in Hamilton. The fact Mercanti now wants to muscle in on what is being established downtown is proof of that, but to let him will be a detriment to the city. A casino is not something the Hamiltonians who are leading the positive change in this city are or can be proud of. It is a bitter cynical old-boys ploy to reap the rewards they feel they are entitled to when things start looking up. But these are the same "civic leaders" that have lobbied successfully for decades and what we got was sprawl and money diverted from our urban centre to fund new developments to maximize their profits. They've spent decades deriding and neglecting downtown. Now that others have worked to slowly rebuild the core the same-old entitled cadre of insiders and sycophants want to come get their piece of the pie.

I hope the people of Hamilton tell PJ it isn’t his pie anymore and buying himself a mayor isn't going to change that fact.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 09:53:11 in reply to Comment 86044

I would put it this way: Theoretically, if people want to have fun gambling, thats fine. Realistically, when 36% of casino revenue is from problem gamblers, we need to start asking questions, and when those revenues are owned by our government and used by our elected representatives to fund our cities and province, then I have a hard time justifying it.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 17:00:18 in reply to Comment 86048

Exactly AnjoMan.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2013 at 10:22:01

One of the more interesting things to strike me in this whole debate is the seeming sea change in the mind set of the Carmen's/Mercanti group in their attitude towards downtown. Flash back to the stadium fiasco and you'll recall that Mercanti along with that idiot Scott Mitchell of the Tiger Cats tried the end run around council to coerce a "stadium precinct" on the east mountain. They bought in to the farcical argument by the money losing retail business that is the Tiger Cats that there was just no money to be made downtown, people wouldn't go there, and that to prosper, the suburbs needed to be the focal point.

Oh how the worm has turned! Now suddenly downtown is where it's at, it's going to be a destination!, Ummmm I call bullshit.

This is simply an opportunistic business entity trying to secure a bigger piece of the pie for themselves.

I'm not opposed to a casino just to be contrary. I don't think the issues of lower socio economically entrenched people becoming preyed upon will be any greater than what already takes place in the bingo halls and variety stores selling scratch and wins are now.

What grinds my gears is the snake oil like way in which this is being sold as a panacea for all that ails this city. It simply isn't. Anyone who does any research knows that. It will not be a catalyst for any growth in the core.

I do not want this city to be complicit in the destruction of the horse racing industry in this province, the destruction of at least 50,000 jobs, the euthanization of thousands of horses because the OLG is looking to fleece more Ontarians of more of their cash.

Comment edited by Shempatolla on 2013-02-08 10:23:44

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 11:03:44

What you've described so well Lauren is how real positive change is driven - organically (I hate that word btw...It sounds so pretentious)
I think what Hamilton and other cities are beginning to realize is that these silver bullet massive projects rarely bring the rewards they promise. Whereas small, incremental changes, the likes of which you describe, tend to shape our neighbourhoods in a more positive way.

If you ask me we should just forgo 'big decisions' altogether and promote all the great small ideas :) After all a zillion small ideas and incremental changes will do more for our city than any One Big Idea. I recall that the Spectator had a, 'One Big Idea' series a few years back and one submission was. 'My big idea is that we have no more big ideas'. That says it all really.

Good luck getting a place in the core!

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 11:36:32

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2013 at 12:12:02 in reply to Comment 86064

I'm a life long fan of the TiCats and was a season ticket holder for many years. But that doesn't preclude me from recognizing the reality of what they are in the strictest business terms. My love of the team also does not cloud my judgement with respect to the intent of the current President and CEO.
He quite simply is not from this community,he doesn't live in this community, he doesn't care about this community, and everything he has done in his tenure at that organization is proof of that.

He almost single handedly sabotaged years of planning and decision making over the stadium location, wasted the better part of a year in the process in the pathetic attempt to hijack democracy and coerce a better deal for his boss. For what? To end back up at the same location the team has complained for years they can't make money in, in a smaller facility than the one they played in. And I'm an idiot?

Comment edited by Shempatolla on 2013-02-08 12:12:42

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By PopTheTrunk (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 11:46:50

Hard Rock is so a 90s failure. I live here, work here, but would never go to some cheezy hard rock casino. No class. Crown Casino in Melbourne? Yes. Bellagio in Vegas? Maybe. Hard Rock in Hamilton? Nope. total cheeze.

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By Bringthecasino (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 12:27:43

Niagara does have sweet boutiques and quaint local restaurants, anyone who checks tripadvisor.ca would know sections are becoming gentrified. No, not necessarily on Clifton Hill, but Clifton Hill is not "downtown" Niagara, its a tourist freak show of a street and everyone loves it that way.
There is already a thrice daily free bus to Flamborough Downs outside Limeridge Mall and along Main West, so if someone "poor" wants to go, they can.
I moved to Hamilton 3 years ago myself and honestly, I love Hamilton for all the same reasons, but I SUPPORT a downtown casino. In fact, there should stick in that gawd awful convention centre and give the convention centre a street facing entrance rather than keep what it has (that hidden ugly covered driveway of an entrance).
I find it interesting that no mention is made of the Bingo parlour across from Gore Park.
Anyhow, I support it and anyone that opposes it doesn't want Hamilton to ever "Shine".

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 14:54:31 in reply to Comment 86073

Many many people in many comments have mentioned the Bingo parlour across Gore Park.

I do agree the Convention Centre entrance should face the street and not be underground.

Note: They are NOT proposing to put the casino in the convention centre.

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By tinyhamiltonian (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 13:17:40 in reply to Comment 86073

You're completely right, Clifton Hill isn't downtown Niagara. Yes, Clifton Hill is absolutely a tourist freak show.

Downtown Niagara is generally considered to be the area surrounding Queen Street. It is often referred to as "The Q" and is a lovely place to eat and shop and spend time.

However, there are no casinos there.

All the casinos are located near Clifton Hill because that is the type of culture that thrives around gaming facilities.

It's a good thing they kept their downtown separate, huh?

Comment edited by tinyhamiltonian on 2013-02-08 13:18:05

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 12:30:23

Greg, thanks for the explanation. You are entitled to your opinion. I personally try to not refer to people as idiots on the Internet even if I may not like them for whatever reason. That is where I am coming from. I am a TiCats fan and not a fan of Scott Mitchell however I would hope that I would not refer to him as an idiot publicly.

Now, I see my post has been "Edwin Mellened" so to speak. Hopefully I won't have a lawsuit agains't me. ;)

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2013 at 15:08:52 in reply to Comment 86074

There is a reason I post using my name (or at least have it posted). If I call someone out, they have every opportunity to respond. I won't shrink like a violet from my opinions and my feelings. My feelings for that particular individual approach contempt.
He has by himself, very smugly created division and discontent in this community and done nothing to rectify it. He is the type of person who thinks he is the smartest one in the room and isn't afraid to let you know it.

He is why I no longer am a season ticket holder of the TiCats.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted February 09, 2013 at 15:26:43 in reply to Comment 86088

Your opinion is widely shared, Shempatolla.

By the way, an opinion piece titled "Tiger-Cats need a Pan Am stadium reality check" by freelance journalist and long-time Tiger-Cat follower Terry Ott was posted on CBC Hamilton on Feb 4/13: http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/talk/story/20...

Just one observation about one of the figures in Mr. Ott's opinion piece. The Hamilton taxpayers' share of the $145 Million total stadium construction cost is actually about $54 Million, not $30 Million.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted February 08, 2013 at 18:58:34

An interesting development has occurred today on the casino issue. According to this article by Emma Reilly titled by "Merulla dropping downtown casino referendum motion" posted on thespec.com this afternoon, Councillor Merulla will withdraw his motion at the special GIC meeting on Feb 14/13 requesting a casino referendum and will instead bring a motion naming Flamboro Downs as the "only possible location for a casino." He is taking this new position based on comments made yesterday by OLG spokesperson Tony Bitonti to Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel that OLG will seek bidders interested in developing the Flamboro site if that is what Hamilton city council decides. http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 08, 2013 at 22:00:29 in reply to Comment 86100

This is the best option. We keep the revenues, we don't take unnecessary risks with our downtown, and we have a chance of saving at least part of the racing industry.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 10:19:39 in reply to Comment 86106

Indeed. Now that the province is apparently covering the payout to the "horse people", that's a nice chunk of profit right there, even if slots-based customer volume and spending is unchanged.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 10:21:33 in reply to Comment 86139

http://www.flamboroughreview.com/news/government-signs-funding-agreement-with-woodbine/

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted February 10, 2013 at 23:20:49

Beautiful mention about Hamilton. The way you described it is exactly, just perfectly how I feel about it. From not being from here, but from enjoying its charms.

Very charming article - thanks.

Hope to order a drink from you sometime!

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By pricelowe (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2013 at 11:05:48

What would be your definition of "beautiful city"? I ask that because I am not sure at this time if Hamilton is a s you say a "beautiful city".

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By mainstreet (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 07:21:28

Gentlemen and ladies,Is it fair to prevent people from doing what they have chosen to do?The bingo hall has been there many years and creates employment and pays taxes.Its easy to understand that all you musical artists dont want any competition from established and successful performers,after all the amateurish effort by some of the local groups is an embarassment.Haveing said that ,noone is trying to shut you out based on merit,so why the attempt to shut others out based on their talent and skill.A downtown casino venue will soon seperate the wheat from the chaff.Have a nice day.

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By pattern (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2013 at 08:01:23 in reply to Comment 86173

Another casino supporter who reeks with condescension for the downtown. I think I'm starting to see a pattern.

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