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
• 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.