The first of what are ex­pected to be at least three Hamilton Casino visions was unveiled last week, and the proposal had a made-in-Hamilton flavour. Rockhammer Inc. is a con­sortium of the Hard Rock Casino group with Ham­ilton entrepreneurs the Mercanti family, operators of Carmen’s and soon to be operators of the Hamil­ton Convention Centre; and LIUNA Pension Fund which will be the financing partner of the project.

Also included in the partnership is McMaster Business Professor Nick Bontis. While no location has been identified for the complex it will require a large footprint to accom­modate all of the features that are planned for the venture.

Proponent P.J. Mercanti says they would prefer a downtown location. “Obvi­ously there is a critical mass component to being close to hotels and other amenities. But in the end the location will be a 3-way decision between OLG, the City of Hamilton and the consortium.” Aside from the casino the project will feature:

• 5-star Hard Rock Hotel with 280 rooms and suites

• “Cloud Nine” Rooftop Day and Night Lounge

• Canadian Rock and Roll Museum including interac­tive displays

• Home of “Waterfall Capi­tal of the World” interac­tive digital display

• “The Joker” Comedy Club

• Live music lounge featur­ing local Hamilton-based musicians

• 3 other open access res­taurants

• A Sports bar and enter­tainment viewing area

• Hallways and walls featuring local Hamilton-based artists

Retail

• A handful of luxury brands and boutique store operators

• Many opportunities for local retailers to rent space and generate revenue

The consortium is fore­casting significant econom­ic impacts created by the project which will require an investment of $200 Mil­lion –all private funds. First the complex will become one of Hamilton’s largest employers, with 1200 “liv­ing wage” jobs (jobs in the $50,000 per year range) ex­pected. The businesses will spend $15 Million for goods and services each year and generate $3Million in property taxes as well as approximately $7 Million in OLG proceeds. The casino, operated by Hard Rock En­tertainment will have 1,200 slots and table games

P.J. Mercanti says he hopes that the local aspect of the consortium will find favour with Hamilton City Council. He added that in addition to the LIUNA and McMaster connection other local personalities will be involved. “Dean Col­lett (Hess Village restaura­teur) will assist in the food service programming, Ben Guyatt will help us set up the comedy club, and Chris Ecklund will be involved in opening a waterfall mu­seum here.”

The prospect of a casino in downtown Hamilton has been a source of contro­versy. A large crowd turned up for a public meeting on a casino in January.

Opponents claim a casino will become a mag­net for problem gamblers and will disproportionally target vulnerable persons who are already below the poverty line. The consor­tium says it will operate a problem gambling ser­vice in conjunction with Mission Services to try to counteract any negative effects of a casino.

Rockhammer director Nick Bontis, says its “hog­wash” that the casino will draw vulnerable people in. “Problem gambling represents 3 percent of the population—the bigger problem in our community is jobs. This project will provide 1200 good jobs.”

Says P.J. Mercanti, “This isn’t a $4 Million decison for council (the amount the city currently receives from OLG for the Flam­boro slots), “Its really an $80 Million decision when you take into account increased property taxes, additional OLG funding, payroll for 1200 people and the money that will be spent on local goods and services” He also noted that Trillium funding which supports arts and cultural organizations is allocated to communities in pro­portion to the commu­nity’s contribution to OLG. “Some of the very people who are opposing us, are dependent on Trillium grants that come grom On­tario Lottery and Gaming,” he concluded.

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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