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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.