HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) - Just weeks after a stunning reversal on the issue of casinos in the City of Holyoke, Mayor Alex Morse is now saying that the city is no longer interested in developing a casino.
In a public statement released on Thursday afternoon, Morse wrote that he has stopped the City's casino search process, and is returning the fees collected by the two developers interested in building on sites in the city.
"A casino may be coming to the area, but it will not be coming here," Morse wrote.
Morse was elected mayor in 2011 on an anti-casino platform. Shortly after he took office, Hard Rock International, which had proposed to build a casino at Wyckoff Country Club, began to back away from that proposal and seek sites elsewhere.
Many Morse supporters were upset with the mayor when in a November 26 news conference , he announced that he had changed his position on the issue, and began a process to consider a casino site in the city.
Morse says that he had this rapid change of heart after consulting with local leaders and city residents.
"… over the past weeks, I have done a lot of listening: I have heard from leaders from other cities that faced similar circumstances; and above all, I have heard from the citizens I serve. And I now realize that the allure of these short-term economic benefits are not worth the protracted exercise that would divert us and cause me to lose sight of the values that got me elected," Morse wrote.
Speaking with 22News reporter Ryan Walsh on Thursday afternoon, Morse said that a recent visit to a casino in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania solidified his decision to halt the casino process.
"The mayor really is the decision maker when it comes to a casino, based on the legislation. We made this decision very recently this week, reflecting on our lessons learned from Pennsylvania," Morse said, adding that the door for a casino in Holyoke is completely closed, and that there is no wiggle room.
In his statement, the Mayor said that he will continue to work to deal with the impact on Holyoke of a casino in another western Massachusetts community. MGM and Penn National Gaming hope to develop sites in nearby Springfield, while Mohegan Sun hopes to develop a casino in Palmer.
Morse had recently suggested a meeting of local mayors to discuss the possible impact of a western Massachusetts casino, an idea that was largely dismissed by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. 22News contacted Sarno on Thursday, but he had no comment on Morse's recent change of heart on the casino issue.