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Toronto Maple Leafs and Hamilton: A History of Threatened Vetoes

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Not sure how this open letter flew under the radar of the national media but Gabe Macaluso, most commonly described as the former president of Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc., has penned an open letter detailing his run-ins with the spectre of a relocation veto by the Toronto Maple Leafsduring his attempts to secure an NHL team for Hamilton. The Leafs come across as the mafia in that the people that Macaluso approached know that they cannot tread on their turf:

1)     Met with Cliff Fletcher, who was with the Calgary Flames, at the Omni Hotel in Detroit. Present with me was Jerry Patterson. Cliff told us straight out that it was going to be a huge uphill battle for Hamilton to obtain an expansion franchise as the Toronto Maple Leafs had a "Veto" vote.


2)     Met with Barry Shenkarow, owner of Winnipeg Jets, at his office in Winnipeg. Present with me were the Mayor and Harrah's Casino's potential buyer of the Jets. Mr Shenkarow was forthright in his statement to us. He said that he would be wasting his time dealing with selling the team to Hamilton's prospective owner because the Leafs had made it very clear to him that they would use their veto against any attempt to sell the team to a potential Hamilton owner. Although our prospective owner had a check in amount of $75,000,000 on his person and in fact showed it to Mr Shenkarow. Mr Shenkarow reacted angrily and stated that the dollar amount was not the issue, Toronto's NHL constitutional right of a veto, was.


3)     Met with Marcel Aubut, who was the owner of the Quebec Nordiques in Quebec City at the Colisee. Present with me was Jerry Patterson and Frank DeNardis. Mr Aubut made it clear to us that he could not accept the offer of $75,000,000 from Harrah's Casino, for the purchase of the Nordiques(although he stated he wanted to badly) because the NHL had their hands tied due to Toronto's insistence that they would exercise their veto vote.

The letter expands on issues such as the fact that he was told that the league had changed their constitution to remove the Leafs' veto but he notes that a former mayor of Buffalo warned him off a team because the Sabres still had a veto.

But who is Gabe Macaluso? Find out after the jump.

From 1989 to 2003 Gabe Macaluso was in charge of giving life to the dream that won't die: NHL hockey in Hamilton. The NHL's return after leaving in 1920 would provide a much needed boost of self-esteem to a city that currently boasts only a CFL franchise that only recently has begun moving towards respectability and the AHL's Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens' farm team. Not to mention their recent skewering on a popular hockey podcast. While he managed to pull the wool over the eyes of Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti Macaluso was unable to convince the NHL that Hamilton is more than a minor league town. The closest that they came was during the first round of expansion in the 90s when Ottawa and Tampa Bay were invited to join the NHL (audio).

The following teams have all flirted with the Hammer:

The L.A. Kings, Colorado Rockies, Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Quebec Nordiques, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes.

Most used the city as a ploy to work out  better lease or arena deals and when Macaluso's term came to an end in 2003 he had yet to be able to convince a team or owner to stand up to the combined might of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres. However, it's when we get to his dismissal that things get pretty interesting.

Turns out that, like the City of Hamilton when they built Copps Coliseum, Gabe Macaluso has a bit of a gambling problem:

Gabe Macaluso, the former head of Hamilton's Copps Coliseum, sued for $2 million, alleging he lost so much that he mused about suicide and was banned from Casino Niagara, only to be welcomed back two months later.

The crux of the issue is a series of lawsuits that have been brought against the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission by problem/out of control gamblers claiming that the OLGC does not have strict enough procedures in place to prevent these gamblers from gaining entry to the casinos that they manage. The OLGC had been settling these suits before they reach open court in the hopes of preventing a flood of cases from being filed and a particular observer is ever present:

There are several suits in Ontario, a class action in Quebec and dozens of other problem gamblers across the country are waiting to see how this first wave of lawsuits plays out before deciding whether to launch their own cases.

Gabe Macaluso was CEO of the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont., until he gambled away a million dollars and was fired from his job.

He's now suing the OLGC and welcomed the news that another compulsive gambler has settled her lawsuit.

"I hope it's a fair deal for her," he said.

Not that it helped since those unable to control their own actions are now looking for $3.5B from the Ontario governmentin "general, special and punitive damages" purportedly to compensate the gamblers for their losses for their attempts to shuffle off responsiblity for their actions. At issue is whether the OLGC has implemented enough technology, training, and effort into keeping the 12,000 self-identified problem gamblers out of their casinos. The casino argues that the list is not meant as the sole action used by gamblers to battle their addiction but rather the first step

But the slots are not the only place where Macaluso has been bleeding money. He was one of the investors in Cirque Niagara's Avaia show which features "dazzling performances by rare breed Russian horses, gymnasts, acrobats and extreme Cossack riders" which lost $6.7M.

"Unfortunately tourism was down in 2006 something like 30 per cent, largely due to terrorist plot arrests in Canada that year, the passport issue, and of course the gas prices," he said.

"Nothing changed in 2007. It got worse. The dollar got stronger ... the passport issue got onerous for Americans because they were just not getting the word that they could come over without one."

Considering how much worse things became last November Macaluso can probably count himself lucky they he got out when he did! What's the latest gamble that he is taking? Well, in May he outlined his predictions about how the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy case would play out in Judge Baum's courtroom.

  1. The NHL would make public that Balsillie was not approved as an owner
  2. The Coyotes would have a new owner if they could get a favourable lease but that would be able to move the team if they didn't average 14K fans per game. The catch: it would be an NHL approved location
  3. Owners will eventually clamour for expansion into Southern Ontario for the 2012-2013 season.
  4. The price for the team would be $500M including $100M for the Leafs and $35M for the Sabres
  5. This part is interesting because it gets to a couple of things that I've thought for a while but he believes that MLSE would get the rights to broadcast some of the team's games on LeafsTV as well as the contract to manage the new team's building.

Based on his track record I am not sure that I'd put my money on his predictions. His first one was right on but that isn't necessarily prescient. The auction that is currently taking place will hopefully begin to put some sort of resolution in place but it's interesting to note that many people shared the thought that Ice Edge dropping out was a way of remaining in the consideration for the team in the long-run if the NHL wins. There's still a long way to go but the characters in the process are becoming more interesting than ever.