As Kraft and Wynn up the ante, casino causes concern in Foxborough

A town debates whether gambling is worth the risk

By Nicholas Nehamas

Legalize gambling, bet on controversy. That’s the story from around the world. Over the next few weeks, Latitude News will be filing reports on casinos from five continents.

We kick off our series in Massachusetts where last November the state legislature approved the construction of three casinos, one each in the metro-Boston region, Western Mass. and the southern part of the state.

In Boston, the gambling industry has its eyes on Foxborough, a small suburb that’s home to the New England Patriots. Pats owner Robert Kraft, backed by the Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn, wants to take the empty land next to Gillette Stadium and build a casino on it.

Robert Kraft before a New Englands Patriot game. (Reuters/Adam Hunger)

According to an online poll by the Boston Globe, townspeople are split down the middle between those who want the casino and those who don’t.

We started our own inquiries at the South Foxborough Community Center, where a group called “No Foxboro Casino” hosted an open house for concerned citizens to discuss the Wynn/Kraft proposal.

Kraft and Wynn say the project will create badly needed jobs and tax revenue. But some residents are worried that a casino will hurt Foxborough more than it will help.

Have a listen to locals expressing their concerns:

Others in Foxboro disagree. A group called “Jobs for Foxboro” is helping to lead the charge [Editor’s Update: The Foxboro Reporter wrote that Jobs for Foxboro is backed by Wynn]. In some cases the conflict has turned angry as citizens shout at each other during raucous town meetings and steal pro- and anti-casino yard signs from each other’s yards.

Gamble someplace else

We didn’t meet a lot of people at the open house who objected to the casino on a moral level. The issue that most concerned them was quality-of-life: many residents are afraid that a casino—even if it is designed in the family-friendly style that Wynn has promised—will forever change the character of their comfortable New England town.

They’re not alone. In Spain, a proposal from American billionaire Sheldon Adelson to create a “Euro-Vegas” in Barcelona or Madrid is causing a similar stir.

At the No Foxboro Casino open house (Nicholas Nehamas)

Foxborough—population 17,000—already has problems dealing with the 68,000 fans who show up to every Patriots’ home game. The crowds create massive traffic jams, dump trash everywhere, and drink too much. (Foxborough accounted for six percent of Massachusetts’s alcohol-related arrests in 2011 despite being home to just .25 percent of the state’s citizens). “Game days are awful,” said Elizabeth Whitney, who’s lived in the area for thirty years. “You really have to plan your life around them,” agreed Mary Slein, who moved here from Boston a year ago.

But the Pats only play eight regular season home games a year. Casinos, on the other hand, are a 24/7 business and gambling lacks football’s All-American appeal. Their possible connection to both organized and petty crime scares many in Foxborough.

Wynn and Kraft promise their $1 billion casino will have an intimate and homey atmosphere, just like a typical New England village. They’ve also dangled the prospect of 10,000 permanent jobs at the resort, plus 10,000 temporary construction jobs, and $10 million to $15 million in annual tax revenue.

The proposed Foxborough casino (Courtesy photo)

Here’s Larry Harrington, a town selectman who supports the project, explaining why the current economic climate means Foxborough needs the financial benefits of a casino to survive.

Where are the want ads?

But people at the open house think new jobs might be a roll of the dice. Several noted that Maine’s Oxford Casino was recently accused of giving preference to out-of-state-workers with experience in the casino industry. And nearly everyone believed that most jobs would be too low-paying to attract interest from locals—the unemployment rate here is 5.9%, comfortably below the state average. One resident scoffed at Wynn’s claim that the casino would create 10,000 construction jobs. After all, he pointed out, at its peak the Big Dig only employed 5,000 workers.The open house also drew some out-of-towners like Paul Adams, who drove in from Brimfield in western Massachusetts, the site of a proposed MGM Grand casino. He expressed skepticism that increased tax revenue will end up helping his community, even after factoring in the mitigation funds the casino must pay the town for building new roads and hiring more police.

Here’s why:

Read a supporting argument from an Op-Ed in Toronto’s Globe-and-Mail as Ontario debates building its own casinos.

The battle for public opinion is an important one. In May, Foxborough will hold an election for its town board of selectmen. The vote has basically become a referendum on the casino. It’s not easy for “No Foxboro Casino,” run by a core of six or seven local volunteers, to compete with the resources of the Kraft/Wynn group, which recently produced a thirty-minute DVD extolling the virtues of a casino and mailed it to 7,000 homes. Bruce Norwell—who lives in neighboring Walpole just across the town line from the proposed casino site—said the fight has become a “David and Goliath” affair. WATCH HERE

Nearly everyone at the Open House loved their Pats. But we were curious to see if the casino controversy has changed how Foxborough residents view Pats owner Robert Kraft.

Here’s what they had to say:

 Doubling down

Steve Wynn in a happy moment in Macau in April 2010. (Reuters/Bobby Yip)

While Wynn and Kraft continue to make their case for Foxborough, a more likely destination for the casino is Suffolk Downs, a horse racing track in East Boston that has expressed interest in hosting a casino. Kraft, for one, is hedging his bets: an IPO filing revealed that he holds a $1.3 million stake in Caesar’s, the casino company backing the Suffolk Downs bid.

Would you be comfortable with a casino being built in your hometown?

Discuss this
The controversy in Foxborough comes at a time when the gambling industry in America is struggling as a whole. Thanks to the recession, online gambling, and the legalization of casinos in new states, revenues are down and the market is in danger of fragmenting. Connecticut’s Foxwoods casino, the Western hemisphere’s largest, is in particularly bad shape and legal gambling in Massachusetts will certainly take away from its already faltering business. But as the economy recovers the casino industry hopes to follow suit. Iowa and Alabama, for starters, have already seen some growth.

Business has been better overseas, particularly in Macau (though Wynn is being sued there by his former business partner). In fact, international expansion has been quite lucrative for casino companies. But just as in Foxborough not everyone is comfortable having a casino in their backyard.

Over the next few weeks, Latitude News will reporting on gambling around the world – let us know what questions and issues you’d like us to explore.

  • Shansylvia

    I wanted to link my website to this article, except that I never heard Larry Harrington say anything like what you reported. Where did that come from? That’s too bad, because I would have liked to link my website to it. http://foxborocasiknow.com

    • Nick_Nehamas

      Mr. Harrington said it in an interview with Fox 25 morning news back in January. You can watch it here: http://www.myfoxboston.com/dpp/morning/foxborough-casino-debate-20120102

      • Shansylvia

        I just watched the news clip, thanks for pointing it out. I read the article, but did not watch the clip until now. He didn’t actually state what was written here. Of course Foxboro will survive without the casino. He was stating what he believes the possible benefits might be. Larry has a strong financial background and he would like the town to see the possible benefits; however, more importantly, he would like the town to receive the information, and then decide with the town voting, not a few selectman. I myself have not made up my mind – how can I, there has been no proposal or negotiation, and there is not enough information to decide from. By the way, BuckFarack is not an actual person – it’s a page, and this page is a “troll” – he trolls local Patch sites and tries to cause issues – just ignore him, I do.

      • Shansylvia

        I encourage to take a look at http://www.facebook.com/groups/287539527957237/ the Foxboro Casino Discussion group. I think that you may find some useful information for future articles. Thanks for the reply, and good luck with your articles! I am hoping to be able to link to some at http://foxborocasiknow.com in the future.

      • Shansylvia

        I don’t mean to spam you, but if you’d like to learn more about Larry Harrington, please go to http://larryharringtonforselectman.com Thanks again for your patience.

    • BuckFarack

      Anyone who says Harrington is not pro casino is being disingenuous. Hiding behind the “I just want to hear more information” is a facade and anyone with an ounce of intellectual honestly knows it. I’m also glad to see they reported the Foxboro Casino Discussion Group as pro casino, which they blatently are although they claim to be imapartial.

  • Shansylvia

    Also, you should check out a local residents group that are pro-information on Facebook – Foxboro Casino Discussion Group

  • BuckFarack

    The article failed to state that the Jobs For Foxboro is funded and managed by a professional Public Relations Firm paid for by Wynn. Also, here’s a link to an anti-casino FB page http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Say-No-to-Foxboro-Casino/200177013397282

  • DR820

    Foxboro and the surrounding towns are not split on the casino. The majority oppose a casino in Foxboro! There is a petition for Mr. Kraft to do the right thing (by withdrawing his proposal) that has close to 2,000 signatures. http://www.change.org/petitions/mr-kraft-please-do-the-right-thing.
    In contrast a pro-casino petition has a lowly 66.
    Also, elected boards in Foxboro and immediate abutting towns of Walpole, Norfolk and Wrentham have voted to oppose a casino in Foxboro.

    • Shansylvia

      There are probably very few pro-casino individuals in Foxboro, that is correct. However, there are a large number of pro-information citizens in Foxboro. I have no idea about the surrounding towns.

  • JM2012

    “According to an online poll by the Boston Globe,” that’s a great poll, it makes me think that the Boston Globe is part of Jobs For Foxboro, the organization that is funded and managed by a professional Public Relations Firm paid for by Wynn and probably the Kraft Group, I believe that they have used this firm in the past. I went on that poll and was able to vote as many times as I wanted to and in doing so I easily tilted the poll in my favor. I thought that the Boston Globe was one of Boston’s top news sources. I would think that such a professional group would be inelegant enough not to use a poll that could be so easily rigged. I live in Foxboro and I disagree with a lot of the news reported in this article. Don’t you have any responsibility to print the truth? I would think that such a prestigious news organization would employe many highly competent individuals that are capable of printing ACCURATE and truthful information.

  • Thisiswrong

    Frankly I think the only people that should be allowed to vote on the casino are the people living closest the the site, within a radius of 2-3 miles from the site on route 1, even if it’s crossing town lines, so not only Foxboro but Walpole, Norfolk, Sharon, and Wrentham have a say. I realize the laws on voting it in or out only allows the hosting town to vote, but I think the people who will be most affected, are the people living closest to it, which includes all those towns. Being that it sits on three town lines, all should have a vote. Regardless of what it brings in tax dollars to the town, the negatives (far too many to list) are far more important, and once you have it, it will never go away. Yet another case of the rich and powerful trying to push the little people around. Kraft and Wynn are the only winners in this deal. Maybe if Kraft paid the taxes he should have paid long ago on the Stadium instead of this $1 a ticket, the Town of Foxboro would be in better shape finacially. I think all the donations Kraft has given the town thru the years are part of the plan he has had to push this casino thru now.