JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
NIAGARA FALLS – If Niagara Falls city council hopes to open the door to more casinos in the Honeymoon Capital, it should seek the consent of residents by way of a question on the next municipal election ballot question, says Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor.
“My position is pretty clear; you have to have a referendum,” Craitor said during an interrview with Bullet News.
Craitor was commenting on a resolution passed last month by Niagara Falls last month calling on the government of Premier Kathleen Wynne to agree to an expansion of gambling in Niagara Falls and additional investment by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation into the two existing facilities.
City Council Resolution 35, approved by the full Council Aug. 13, 2013 says that “Niagara Falls City Council believes the best way to ensure Niagara’s two casinos retain their role as significant local/regional employers and restore their traditional role as generators of provincial revenue and tourism attractors is through the introduction of product diversification, new investment, such as a new 7,000 seat theatre, and distinct and relevant branding differentiating Niagara’s two resort casinos.”
The resolution continues: “Niagara should be the Province’s premier resort casino destination, with a goal of permitting additional resort casinos to be established in Niagara Falls.”
While Craitor says he’s supportive of renewal at Casino Niagara and Niagara Fallsview Casino, the Niagara Falls MPP says voters should have a say on any major expansion of gambling in the city.
City voters had a chance to weigh in on the subject in the mid-1990s by way of a referendum prior to the opening of Casino Niagara and they should have that same opportunity again, Craitor says.
Craitor was a member of city council when the first casino opened in Niagara Falls.
“I still believe you have to bring the issue back to the (residents),” he said.
“I’m not saying I’m opposed to (more casinos in Niagara Falls), but it’s a pretty big thing to go with just a (council) resolution.”
The city is set to receive a much larger share of revenue from the two casinos it hosts thanks to a new deal being worked out with the province.
Under the proposed terms of that agreement – which has yet to be signed – the city could see $18 to $20 million in gaming money flow into its coffers a year at the outset. The amount would vary, depending on the financial performance of the casinos.
In the past, the city has received a fixed sum of $3 million a year for hosting the casinos.
“We have a vested interest,” Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, of the new formula and what it means to the city.
“We (as council) have a responsibility to protect the jobs we have and a responsibility to try to create new jobs.”
The Aug. 13 resolution was unanimously endorsed by city council, Diodati noted, which should send a clear message to Queen’s Park and the OLG that local politicians are united in view that the status quo isn’t the right approach.
Rebranding and refurbishing the existing casinos and opening the door for additional gamming facilities and a larger role for the private sector will revitalize the industry – something that will benefit both the city and the province, which has seen its share of the market steadily eroded by competition south of the border.
“Competition is good,” said Diodati, adding “It brings out the best.”
As for Craitor’s idea of holding another referendum on the issue of casino gambling in Niagara Falls, Diodati said it’s an “interesting perspective,” but he’s not convinced it’s necessary.
Diodati noted that while the question of whether residents supported casino gambling in Niagara Falls was the subject of a municipal referendum prior to the opening of Casino Niagara, a second referendum was not held asking consent for the expansion of gambling prior to the opening of Fallsview casino.
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