OLG plan hinged on downtown Hamilton casino: auditor

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation had an internal goal to put a casino in downtown Hamilton by winter 2015, shows a new report from Ontario’s auditor general. And that’s news to at least one city councillor.

Bonnie Lysyk’s report shows that the OLG’s 2012 modernization plan — which she dubbed “overly ambitious” and “overly optimistic” — hinged on councils such as Hamilton’s agreeing to a downtown casino.

Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8, who was «leaning toward» a downtown casino, says that is «not at all» what he heard from OLG officials.

Auditor General’s report on the OLG modernization plan (PDF)

«My impression was that it was the geographic zones and that it would be bidded on, and that the preference (for location) could be dictated by council,» he said.

Opponents say it’s no surprise that the OLG aimed for a downtown gaming centre, but they never heard it explicitly stated.

“I’m certainly not surprised,” said Matthew Green, a local anti-casino advocate, about the goal of a downtown Hamilton casino.

“All of their actions around the consultation process and around their dealings with council show that they favoured a downtown casino.»

Graham Crawford, who also rallied against a downtown casino, said he’s never heard the goal stated as clearly as it was in Lysyk’s report.

But “it was always clear by paying attention to what the OLG had said that that’s exactly what was on the table.”

The proposed goal of a downtown Hamilton casino came from private OLG documents Lysyk viewed as part of her audit, she told CBC Hamilton. The plan also included pulling the slots from Flamboro Downs.

Lysyk examination of the modernization plan, released Monday, shows the plan was “overly ambitious” and “overly optimistic” about the money the plan would generate. It also assumed city councils would approve downtown casinos.

The OLG originally projected casinos in Hamilton and elsewhere would bring in an additional $4.6 billion in gaming profits between 2013 and 2015. But the OLG later lowered that projection by 48 per cent, or about $2.2 billion.

Lysyk estimates the actual benefits could be 60 per cent less than forecasted.

The OLG also abruptly cancelled the Slots at Racetracks program, which hurt the horse-racing industry in Flamborough and elsewhere. The program saw horse racers share a portion of the slot revenue.

“OLG developed its modernization plan without sufficiently consulting such stakeholders as municipalities and the horse-racing industry,” Lysyk said.

“The profit estimates should have been more realistic, and the abrupt impact on the horse-racing industry could have been mitigated had more people been consulted beforehand.”

After much community debate, Hamilton city council passed a resolution last year that its first preference was to have gaming at Flamboro Downs, but if that location isn’t viable, to have it at another Hamilton location to be approved by council.

The OLG is getting interest from private-sector operators.

The OLG also proposed casinos in the GTA, Kenora, North Bay, Collingwood/Bracebridge and Cornwall. It proposed replacing slots in Chatham-Kent, Kitchener-Waterloo, Peterborough, Ottawa, Sudbury and Kingston and replacing them with downtown casinos.

Lysyk’s report found that the modernization plans were based on an “ambitious best-case scenario.”

The OLG could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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