The Hamilton Casino debate is far from over. Thanks to broad, vague and unaccountable escape clauses in the OLG lease at Flamboro Downs, the operator will have plenty of leverage to move a new casino downtown.
By Mark Richardson
Published August 05, 2013
Hamilton, did you know that the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp (OLG) and the Great Canadian Gaming Corp (GCGC) still have not signed a lease to allow gaming at Flamboro Downs?
I only found out about the unsigned lease after filing a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see the lease. My request was put on hold because OLG's legal department would not allow the unsigned document to be put in the public's hands.
Here's where and why you should question what the OLG is negotiating for Hamilton behind our backs.
According to Bitonti in the Community News, "The lease follows the terms of the other lease arrangements OLG has made with track owners across the province at between three to five years. In addition, there is a 'transfer' clause within the agreement that will allow private business that takes over the gaming facility lease to relocate the venue to another location, including downtown Hamilton."
Also from the same article, "Under Hamilton council's recently approved motion, Flamboro Downs remains the preferred location for a gaming facility. But if that facility proves financially not viable, the gaming facility could be located to another location within the city, possibly in the core."
I've requested to see a copy of the lease because I think all of Hamilton has the right to know what criteria the OLG has negotiated, that allows any new operator to move gambling operations in our gaming zone from Flamboro Downs.
What auditable formula is in the Flamboro Downs lease to determine the "facility proves financially not viable"?
Unfortunately Hamilton has been given the answer from Bitonti again, this time from the CBC, "Once selected, that operator will decide how viable Flamboro Downs is as a long-term gaming facility."
Bitonti is also quoted stating, "That private sector operator will decide [based on their business plan] whether or not they want to stay there...once the private sector operator is chosen, a discussion about location will emerge."
So really, there we have it right from the OLG itself. Here is the sequence of events, past, present and future. OLG has negotiated a lease with Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC) that includes gigantic, vague and unaccountable escape clauses from the location mandated by City Councillors.
OLG will be issuing Requests For Proposals (RFP) for a company to take over the lease OLG signed with GCGC sometime in early 2014. If GCGC does not win the bid process then another company of OLG's choice will be the tenant of Flamboro Downs, renting from GCGC.
If for any reason the new operator of Flamboro Downs does not feel the racetrack is a 'viable' location for a Casino, that operator is allowed the right by the OLG move the Casino.
Bitonti makes vague mention of consulting with the City on relocation, but he clearly states that a discussion about location will emerge immediately once the OLG has chosen its preferred operator.
The operator puts a gun with OLG bullets in it against our heads again, holding the City of Hamilton and its citizens hostage to the operator's desire to locate a Casino downtown.
My questions to the OLG:
Why would you allow an operator to bid on a location that they consider not being viable?
Why is the OLG dictating (in a privately negotiated lease) to Hamilton that we have to allow locations for a Casino other than Flamboro Downs?
Why is the operator being allowed to decide what is viable for the location?
What exactly is meant by viable, what dollar values are assigned to the term 'viable'?
Why is the OLG letting operators bid on running Flamboro Downs even if they have flawed business plans for the location, or are even completely uninterested in the location at all?
Will the OLG throw revenues away by allowing the operator to pull out of the gaming zone completely if Hamilton Council does not allow relocation?
How does the magical power of Casino veto that OLG President Rod Philips invented on the fly for Hamilton play into the lease agreement?
Is it ethical to negotiate a 'back door' clause that circumvents the wishes of Hamilton Council?
Premier Kathleen Wynne will be in Hamilton for the Provincial Liberal Party convention September 13-15, 2013. Perhaps she can answer this list of OLG questions then!
This chapter in Hamilton's history is only going to heat up over the coming months. Stay tuned.
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