A new city is entering the casino sweepstakes in western Massachusetts. It’s the result of a dramatic shift in the political climate in Holyoke, as we hear from WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, once an outspoken gambling critic, says he’s willing to consider a casino development for his city. Morse announced his stunning reversal Monday at a packed news conference in his city hall office. He struggled at times to be heard over roughly 2 dozen casino opponents who amassed outside his office yelling “ traitor” and “liar” and chanting “ no casino”
Morse defeated a pro-casino incumbent last year to become, at age 22, one of the youngest mayors in the state’s history. His stand on the issue caused Hard Rock International to abandon plans for a casino in Holyoke and look elsewhere.
Morse said the inevitability of a casino in western Massachusetts, most likely in Springfield where three projects are proposed, caused him to make what a he called “a pivot in strategy”
The mayor’s change of heart started last fall when local entertainment entrepreneur Eric Suher came to Holyoke’s economic development officials with a plan for a casino at Mountain Park, an outdoor concert venue next to interstate 91. Morse liked what he heard of the plan, but stopped short of endorsing it. He pledged a public review process.
Morse said he knew there would be some backlash to his shift on casinos, and he insisted he did not take political consequences into consideration. He’s up for re-election next year.
Russell Faille of Holyoke stood in front of city hall Monday with a sign that read “Morse Lied To Holyoke”
But, Lorraine Gorham, came to Holyoke City Hall to support the mayor’s new stand on casinos
Casino developers who want to build in Massachusetts have until January 15 to file an application with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and pay a $400,000 non refundable fee. Mayor Morse said if a developer submits an application for a casino in Holyoke then negotiations with the developer will move forward.
Before the gaming commission can issue a casino license, an agreement between the casino operator and the host community must be ratified by a local voter referendum.