Holyoke mayor talks over hecklers to explain reversal of anticasino position

Three casino proposals for nearby Springfield influenced Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse’s decision to reverse his anticasino position, Morse said Monday morning at a raucous City Hall press conference, at which the mayor at times was forced to talk over hecklers.

Morse, 23, elected last year on an anti-casino platform, now intends to negotiate with a development group proposing a gambling resort at Mountain Park, an outdoor concert venue on Mt. Tom.

“For me, in an ideal world, we would not have a casino within our boundaries,” said Morse, according to a copy of his remarks. “My views on casinos have not changed, and neither has my belief that a casino is unequivocally not our saving grace.

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“The only thing that has changed is my weighing of that option with the alternative, which would be the locating of a box-style casino right at our doorstep.

“Map out driving directions on your favorite GPS: Springfield’s casino would be 15 minutes from [Holyoke] City Hall; one at Mountain Park would be 12,” said Morse. “We share one metropolitan area and I cannot assume that our city boundaries will provide us any protection from a casino down the road.”

The mayor’s change of heart does not guarantee there will ever be a casino in Holyoke. Once the mayor negotiates an agreement with the developers for the city to host a gambling resort, the project must win the endorsement of city voters in a referendum. Only then may the developers apply to the state gambling commission for a license. There is only one casino license available for Western Massachusetts; at least four other development groups have expressed interest in competing for it, including the three in Springfield and one in Palmer.

“The best way to control the outcome of this process, such that we reap the benefits and mitigate the downsides, is to ensure that we negotiate a host agreement that best addresses our concerns and our values; and then, once such an agreement is reached, to put it before the voters,” Morse said.

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