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City could get a $17.5 million tax boost by casino

Date: 9/13/2011

Sept. 14, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE — With the possibility of casino gambling being approved for Massachusetts, Paper City Development LLC, the group seeking to locate a resort casino on the ground of Wyckoff Country Club, released last week what it called “the real numbers” of the economic impact the casino would have on the city and the region.

Among those “real numbers” would be a projected real estate bump for the city of $17.5 million a year and almost $1 million in water and sewer fees.

Tony Ravosa Jr., one of the partners in the group, said the state will have “a little ramping up” after the bill becomes law.

Ravosa explained to Reminder Publications the state would have to appoint a gaming commission that would then form the criteria for the distribution of the three resort casino licenses.

He believes that Gov. Deval Patrick will have the bill on his desk to sign about Nov. 1 and although he noted the holiday season isn’t known as a time when government moves quickly, the lure of the licensing fees into the state coffers may prove to be an incentive.

Paper City Development LLC has had “multiple conversations” with several different gaming partners and Ravosa said an announcement would be made soon.

The only other community in Western Massachusetts to pursue a casino has been Palmer and Ravosa said that Holyoke is “the best site in Western Massachusetts.”

If one of the goals to establish casino gambling in the state were to spur economic growth, Ravosa asserted a resort casino would have the largest impact in Holyoke, as opposed to Palmer.

He explained the location, which is close to both interstate 91 and the Massachusetts Turnpike, is another key element as well as the announced improvements to Amtrak’s north-south service that would establish a train station in Holyoke.

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority’s coverage of Holyoke also means that employees would have a way to get to their jobs at the casino.

According to a report by Paper City Development LLC, “The establishment of a Community Mitigation Fund (CMF) by the Legislature will enable Holyoke to tap into [a] significant pool of funds directly earmarked to assisting host and surrounding communities in offsetting costs related to the construction and operation of a gaming facility. If enacted, the CMF will represent a pool of 6.5 percent of the total revenue generated annually through the state’s 25 percent tax on gross gaming revenues from resort casinos and a single slots parlor.”

The group opposes the adoption of a local option meals tax, but would “stand prepared to work with the city in developing a voluntary ‘payment in lieu of tax’ (PILOT) program solely for restaurants operating ‘within the four walls’ of the Wyckoff Resort Casino, providing the city with yet another form of tangible revenue. Through this PILOT — to be included in the ‘host community’ agreement negotiated with the city — Paper City would voluntarily impose a charge on restaurant meals served at the resort casino at the rate of .75 percent of the gross receipts on each patron’s check ($0.75 on a $100 tab).”

The group also wrote, “Paper City urges the mayor and city officials to consider directing a portion of this PILOT revenue to the Greater Springfield Visitors and Convention Bureau for use in developing plans and carrying out promotional activities touting the Wyckoff Resort Casino and city as a destination for both day trippers and out-of-state visitors.”

“We have endeavored quietly, without a lot of public announcements or fanfare, preparing and doing the homework necessary to make our case to the residents of Holyoke and, ultimately, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that Holyoke presents an absolutely incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – one that can be hugely transformative to both the city and the region,” Joe Lashinger, Paper City’s managing partner, said.

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