Business

Hard Rock planning a casino in Holyoke

Hard Rock planning a casino in Holyoke

Another marquee name has joined the list of gambling giants that want to build casinos in Massachusetts: Hard Rock International is teaming up with a developer that is betting on a site in Holyoke.

Hard Rock’s chairman, Jim Allen, said yesterday that the company will partner with Paper City Development LLC, which is seeking a license to build a $500 million casino on the 100-acre Wyckoff Country Club, near Interstate 91.

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“We’re trying to create an entertainment destination,’’ Allen said, adding that the complex would probably include a hotel and entertainment facilities.

“We believe [Holyoke] is a city that for some time has been looking for ways to increase the standard of living of its citizens, and this is a project that will bring thousands of jobs immediately.’’

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In addition to its trademark cafes, Hard Rock International operates 15 casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock casinos in Tampa and Hollywood in Florida. Others are in Las Vegas, Macau, Bali, and Singapore.

Hard Rock’s partnership in Holyoke intensifies the competition for the one gambling license allocated to Western Massachusetts under casino legislation recently passed by state lawmakers. House and Senate lawmakers are ironing out differences between bills that would authorize construction of three casinos and one slots-only facility in different regions of the state.

If the legislation is passed, as expected, Hard Rock and Paper City would probably face competition from the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which is proposing to build a casino in Palmer, and Penn National Gaming Inc., which is scouting for locations near Springfield.

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As currently written, the legislation would require applicants for casino licenses to pay a one-time fee of $85 million and spend a minimum of $500 million to build a facility. Licenses would be awarded by a state gaming commission using an array of criteria, such as number of jobs to be created, size, amenities, measures to soften the impact on neighbors, and whether the facility would use local suppliers.

Paper City’s team includes several Western Massachusetts business people and is led by Joseph Lashinger Jr. A former Pennsylvania lawmaker, he has worked for Bally’s Entertainment and Penn National and developed a casino in Chester, Pa., that was eventually acquired by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.

“This is a great situation for the city and will make us very competitive for a single license in the West,’’ Lashinger said of the partnership with Hard Rock. “We think we have the greatest shot at grabbing market share’’ from the Connecticut casinos and from facilities in other Northeastern states.

If it was to win the Western Massachusetts license, the Holyoke team would still have to overcome numerous obstacles, including getting traffic to the casino from Interstate 91.

Lashinger said Paper City and Hard Rock are assessing different options for improving access to the property, which is situated along the Mount Tom Range and continues to be operated as a golf course.

Paper City has control of the site through an option to purchase it, Lashinger said.

The developers would also have to win approval in a citywide referendum for a casino.

The issue has become a key issue in the city’s mayoral race, with Holyoke’s current mayor, Elaine Pluta, offering support for a casino and challenger Alex Morse opposing the idea.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.
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