Holyoke Mayor Considers Joining in on Casino Competition

Another Western Massachusetts city could be joining the contest for the region’s single casino license. Holyoke’s mayor has announced his plans to consider proposals for a casino in the city.

23-year old Mayor Alex Morse was voted into office in 2011. Part of his platform was taking a strong anti-casino stance. Now many who supported him are frustrated with what they call his “flip-flopping.” Morse says he hasn’t changed his mind on casinos since he was elected– he still thinks they can harm communities. But he says as plans for a potential casino in Springfield have materialized, he’s had to consider the impact that could have on Holyoke.

“I wasn’t elected to keep a casino out of Holyoke, I was elected to represent everybody. We’re working on education, economic development, public safety, and we’re making great strides. And we’re going to move forward and continue making progress. But as mayor it’s not my job to put blinders on and pretend nothing else is happening around us.”

Morse says the city will consider a resort casino at Mountain Park — the outdoor venue owned by Northampton businessman Eric Suher. Morse says in addition to coming to the area for gambling, that location could bring people for outdoor activities, dining, shopping and overnights in the new hotel site. But Morse says he has not committed to any developer. He says the city will decide over the next few weeks whether to proceed with a proposal.  Lyn Horan is with Citizens for a Better Holyoke. She says even considering potential designs will tie up Holyoke city employees who should be focusing on things like reducing crime and strengthening city schools.

“Why do you think casinos look to develop in towns like Holyoke. They don’t go to Northampton or the cities where there’s a higher per capita income. Because they know it won’t happen. They take and they prey on people in desperate situations. Because they don’t have the money to fight back.”

On Wednesday, Morse will visit Bethlehem and Allentown Pennsylvania — two former steel manufacturing communities — to see how casinos have impacted them.