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Belleville Mayor: Casino press scaring away investors

By Marc Venema

Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis has hinted that the way the casino issue is being handled in Belleville may be hurting the city’s chances at a gaming facility.

The Mayor posted a tweet on Twitter Monday night reading “Investor cancels $35 million plans to build casino in Belleville no warm and fuzzy feeling prediction going to QW new marine.

Although Ellis wouldn’t say who the investor was, he did say via his Twitter account that it was an out-of-province investor that has more than eight sites.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ellis said some investors are concerned about putting money into Belleville because of the controversy and debate, especially the pushback from Councilor Jodie Jenkins, who has made it clear to the rest of council that he doesn’t support a casino in Belleville.

Jenkins disagreed that he had anything to do with the investor possibly opting out of Belleville.

“As much as I’d like to believe that I’m that powerful and can have that effect on this whole issue, the reality is that if a $35 million dollar investor pulled because one councilor is not supportive of the casino and has been stating some issues he has with the process, I’m not really convinced how committed they were to the project in the first place,” Jenkins said.

Ellis said there is interest from other investors. He wouldn’t say who they were, just that most of them are already involved in other casinos around the world. He said a lot of them read about what’s happening in Belleville regarding the casino.

“They read the newswire and read what’s happening in our city,” Ellis said.

He said most of the investors are involved in the industry so they understand and expect a bit of controversy, but Quinte West, which is also going for a casino hasn’t had as much negative publicity opposing a gaming facility.

“These people are in the game and they realize the controversy,” Ellis said. “That’s not happening in Quinte West.”

Quinte West, however, had four councilors vote against supporting the casino in the initial vote earlier this summer. Jenkins was the only “no” vote in Belleville’s vote earlier this summer.

“I’m just being vocal about it,” Jenkins said. “I don’t remember when it was a bad thing to stand up for something you believe in.”

Jenkins said he still hears from members of the community that are opposed to a casino and wants to make sure that people are fully informed about what could potentially be coming to the Quinte region.

“There’s been no real information shared with the municipalities on what these things are going to look like, what the revenue sharing is going to be, it’s simply just ‘hey, you know what, we want to generate revenue, let’s do 29 casinos and pop them up and go from there’,” Jenkins said.

“We are rushing into a decision, we don’t have all the information we need and we are going to wake up one morning and we are going to say ‘wow, that is not what we thought we were getting’.”

Ellis said he met with another investor on Tuesday, but also said that some are becoming concerned with the amount of negative press the issue has been receiving.

“Some are wondering if it’s worth the trip right now.”

Quinte West Mayor John Williams wouldn’t give any specifics about talks with investors, saying he has talked to a few that are interested but said there are a few things to take care of before moving ahead with anything.

The first is having the gaming zone boundary for Quinte West expanded. Currently, the zone for Quinte West is a small chunk near the Belleville boundary. Council voted in favour of making a request to OLG to expand their zone to all of Quinte West earlier this summer. Williams expects an answer to that by the end of August.

Williams’ council also has to vote to support a gaming facility. Council will vote August 13th, the same night Belleville Council will hold a public meeting on the issue.

“If we don’t get the support on the 13th to continue then it won’t make a difference if we get the boundary or not,” Williams said.

Ellis said like it or not, Quinte is getting a casino. It’s just a matter of who will reap the financial benefits.

“Whether you like it, whether you love it, whether you don’t, there’s one coming to the region,” Ellis said. “I think we have to face the facts with that, whether it’s Belleville and we get the jobs, we get the tax space, we get the revenue from it, or we let Quinte West have that.”

Jenkins said that’s not the right way to make a decision.

“I’m not going to be forced into making a decision simply because the best argument we have is ‘well if we don’t do it, Quinte West will get it,” Jenkins said. “As an elected official, I’m not going to be rushed into making that decision.”

If both cities vote to support a casino, it will then come down to where private investors want to put their money.

“If both cities are into it then of course we will hope that the boundary will be expanded,” Williams said. “We expect it will be, and therefore there’s lots of choice for them to make.”

Both cities will host council meetings regarding casino talks on August 13.

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A map of the new Quinte West Marina, the spot where Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis predicts an investor may be interested in building a casino.