An open letter to the Downtown BIA regarding the casino survey

To the Downtown BIA:
May I suggest that the reason the “turnout” for the survey was so dismal is because it was virtually unanswerable by anyone who doesn’t support a casino in Hamilton? Non-supporters were likely to have ignored it because if largely presumed that the respondent would be in favour of a casino. (Full text of the casino survey can be seen here.)

I would like to take the time to break down the issues with this survey as I believe the feedback could be important for helping to avoid this mess with future issues.
First of all, there was no question about a casino in Hamilton in general (question two only asks if you support it downtown). But later on, you ask where a casino should be located. It’s as if there was never a goal set out when designing the survey. And without a data collection goal, what was the point of administering it?
Who designed the survey? It appears to have been written by someone who has absolutely no knowledge or experience in authoring functional questionnaires.
Of the ten questions, two were to establish the identity of the respondent. So that leaves 8 questions about the casino issue. Of those two, one was about whether you supported a casino and the other was about your reasoning if you did not support it. Meanwhile, six of them presumed you are in support and asked for more information. That means 75% (6/8) of the survey questions were specifically targeted to casino supporters, only 1/8 was relevant to non-supporters and the remaining 1/8 was relevant to both groups of people.
If you don’t support a Hamilton casino, how can you possibly answer these following questions?
3. If you are in support of the establishment of a gaming facility in Downtown Hamilton what are your top 2 reasons?
5. If a casino were to be approved for Hamilton where would you prefer it to be located?
6. If a casino were to be approved for Hamilton what type of facility would you support?
7. [...] If a casino is supported by City Council what priorities do you recommend they allocate these funds towards?
8. If a gaming facility is approved by the City of Hamilton and the OLG, would you want a separate board established to monitor the facility?
9. If a separate board is established to monitor the facility, would you volunteer to be a Board Member?
Additionally, Most of the questions beyond number two were leading questions. For instance:

3. If you are in support of the establishment of a gaming facility in Downtown Hamilton what are your top 2 reasons
4. If you are not in support of the establishment of a gaming facility in Downtown Hamilton what are your top 2 reasons?

Who wrote the list of options for these? Are they complete? If you have two top reasons of your own, you can’t fill them in. There’s only one “other” option, forcing you to choose at least one of the survey author’s choices as one of your top two.

6. If a casino were to be approved for Hamilton what type of facility would you support?

Again, a list options – and there’s only two! Why bother with a list at all? Are these the only possibilities?

7. OLG funding formulas suggest that host communities will receive 2 – 5 % of the revenues. Based on other zone experiences, this could translate into millions of dollars of investment and support for Hamilton. If a casino is supported by City Council what priorities do you recommend they allocate these funds towards?

This question almost made me rip the survey up - “this could translate into millions of dollars of investment and support for Hamilton.” sounds like it’s straight out of an OLG sales pitch. I have researched this issue deeply and there is simply no mathematical way for a casino to benefit Hamilton economically. This question forces someone to agree with an unproven claim built into the question in order to answer it. It’s probably the most horrendously designed survey question I have ever seen.

Finally, the last two questions had no basis for their existence at all:
8. If a gaming facility is approved by the City of Hamilton and the OLG, would you want a separate board established to monitor the facility
9. If a separate board is established to monitor the facility, would you volunteer to be a Board Member

What “board”? This is something made up in the imagination of the survey writer. The facility is going to be operated by a private company under the eye of the OLG. The structure of this relationship has already been decided. There is no “board” option available to us. And on top of this, these questions force the respondent to take a supportive view of a casino in order to answer them – plus they were considered “required” answers, and you could not complete the survey without giving a response! If one does not support a casino, how does one answer question 8? Do you say “yes” making it feel like you are supporting a casino too? Or do you say “no”, indicating that if we end up stuck with a casino you don’t want to have any say in its operation?

What was with all of the extra questions? I’m again left wondering if anybody set out a data collection goal before putting the survey together. There’s no law that says a survey has to have a minimum number of questions. If the goal is to determine support for a casino, a short simple survey would have worked well and I suspect you’d have received a lot more responses.
May I suggest that a valid, unbalanced casino survey might read like this:
  • Who are you?
  • Do you support a casino in Hamilton? [not necessary but might be worthwhile]
  • Do you support a casino in Downtown Hamilton?
And if you really think the data about the respondent’s reasoning is important, you could ask:
  • Why/why not?

Finally, regarding the administration of the survey, I don’t understand why you did not visit the businesses. We get visits from the BIA for things such as window display contests, renting tents for street events and newsletter ad promotions, but there’s no time to visit us for an issue of such great importance?

I was embarrassed to be associated with the Downtown BIA when I saw this survey. In the future, please hire a professional to draft the questions when we are faced with such important issues. This level of un-professionalism is fine for a Christmas window display contest, but when it comes to the future of downtown, I want my representatives to take their responsibility a little more seriously.
Thank You,
Sean Burak
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2 comments on “An open letter to the Downtown BIA regarding the casino survey
  1. guest says:

    I'm not sure your suggested survey questions are much better. Your questions read more like ea referendum. What sort of data analysis would you be able to with those questions?

    I also think that you may have read a little too much into these questions with your own bias. Even if you don't support a Casino, like many other things in municipal politics, it may be forced upon you, therefore the survey is asking how you would like to see that run or operated. Sure a board may not be a real option, but answering that question would give the people conducting the survey some data on how a Casino should be run if it happens to land in Hamilton. Data analysis is a very complex operation that allows for many insights from questions just like these.

    • bikehounds says:

      The point of the survey was for the BIA to form a position on a downtown Casino (yes or no) based on the opinions of its members. It was not about data analysis. If the end result is a casino in the core, then the BIA would be free to do further polling and analysis once we understand what is within our control and what isn't. I don't claim to be a survey expert, but it's clear that the BIA isn't either. Next time they should hire one if they want usable results.

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