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Die is now cast against casino

Date: 1/25/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — The Paper City's on-again, off-again relationship with casino gambling has been determined by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) and Mayor Alex Morse is happy with the result.

The MGC denied the request for an extension by Paper City Development LLC on Jan. 17.

In a statement on Jan. 17, Mores said, "I am pleased that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has denied Paper City Development's request for an extension to file an application, essentially closing the door on a casino in Holyoke. This is great news for Holyoke. I look forward to shifting the conversation towards one that focuses on regional cooperation and regional mitigation, as a casino in Western Massachusetts will affect all of us. Holyoke's future is bright — and it's time to put our destiny in our own hands."

Morse made his stand against casinos clear in a letter to the MGC opposing the extension. He wrote, "Developers have had over a year to do their homework, consider a project and meet the MGC's license application timeline — one that four others in Western Massachusetts alone have been able to abide. All interested companies have had the same opportunity to evaluate potential host communities throughout the Commonwealth; anyone's failure to find one in the allotted time cannot be blamed on the city of Holyoke. If companies initially interested in our city had pursued development anywhere else, they may have obtained confidence from their investors to place the non-refundable, Phase I Application fee. Instead, some have found the need to fault me for their own shortcomings. My brief and very public weighing of Holyoke's alternatives regarding gaming in our community and region hardly justifies a year's worth of inactivity by any private party. The fact that an extension request would be sent to you just minutes before your deadline further demonstrates the lack of proper planning and foresight by those who seek special treatment from the Commission."

Following Morse's return to an anti-casino position, Paper City had announced a deal with the Boys & Girls Club of Holyoke that would, if the casino had gone through, would have helped the nonprofit develop property it owns on Mount Tom.

Some people believe the announcement of the agreement would create pressure on Morse to reconsider his stance once again, however, Morse wrote to the MGC, "Furthermore, my position on this issue will not be changing. To be clear: as mayor, I will not negotiate a host agreement with any casino developer. No amount of additional time for any such developer will change that fact."

Although there was controversy over the impact of a casino on the city's tax rate, a report issued by the Assessors Office on Dec. 10 stated, "The economic impact of a casino would be a boost for the city overall . if we were to assume the current tax rate at $39.97 the estimated taxes for the property would be $19.98 million. Increased in tax revenues if nearly $20 million could certainly impact the tax rate. It would lower the rates over all for residential, commercial, industrial and personal."

The report continued, "There is no evidence that property values would decline. They could possibly increase with a stronger demand for homes and potential new run-off business openings due to the casino. Towns surrounding the casinos in Connecticut saw an increase in housing developments, this increasing their overall value. New housing caused an increase in population. The increase in population crated an increase in city services such as police, fire and public utilities. Many people are under the impression that because the Police Department added new positions that crime increased. Not so, the population called for increased services."