Neighboring towns on edge over casino plan
Only Foxborough gets vote on resort
Carol Toledo and Robert Reed own businesses near each other on Main Street in the center of Norfolk, but the two friends are worlds apart in the debate over a proposal for a casino in neighboring Foxborough.
“It has to be about the jobs,’’ said Toledo, owner of Carol’s Place Dry Cleaning, as she sat chatting with Reed, who had stopped by from a couple of doors down, where he runs an accounting business.
“What kind of jobs? Bartenders? It’s going to be half politicians’ friends and families working there,’’ Reed responded.
“At every level, you need jobs,’’ Toledo shot back.
Conversations like this seem to be happening all over the region, in kitchens and offices and town halls. But the commentary is a little more urgent in Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham, which border Foxborough to the west and could see some of the greatest impacts from a casino setting up shop across Route 1 from Gillette Stadium. Only residents of the host community would get to vote on the proposal.
Las Vegas heavyweight Steve Wynn and New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft went public earlier this month with plans for a resort casino on Kraft-owned land in Foxborough now used for parking. Wynn would be the builder, with Kraft as the casino’s landlord, and both men have tried to woo Foxborough residents, who have reacted largely with mistrust.
The state’s new casino law allows the host community to hold a vote on whatever plan emerges, but the right does not extend to neighboring communities. The arrangement is leaving residents in some adjacent towns feeling shut out of the process.
A spokesman for Kraft declined to comment and referred questions to Wynn; his office issued a statement on behalf of Wynn Resorts.
“It is our intention to make a presentation of a destination convention hotel, which will include amenities that serve the citizens of Foxborough and the surrounding communities in many ways,’’ the response states in part. The project “will create thousands of jobs and add immensely to economic development, in a manner that is not intrusive or disruptive to the settled lifestyle of Foxborough and surrounding communities.’’
Wrentham Selectman Stephen Langley said he’s received nothing but “negative feedback’’ from residents so far. He said Wrentham already suffers from traffic every time there’s a game or big event at Gillette Stadium.
“We’re certainly concerned about the impact - or more appropriately the negative impact - a casino might bring,’’ he said.
Whatever revenue Wrentham might be offered, said Langley, wouldn’t compensate for the potential costs to the community.
Municipalities that are designated by the state’s gaming commission as “surrounding communities’’ will be eligible for an impact fee. The state law calls for casino developers to negotiate with local officials to identify and address impacts, and ultimately sign an agreement, but it’s not yet clear what that will mean.
The law would allow three casinos, with one in Greater Boston, another in Western Massachusetts, and the third in Southeastern Massachusetts or Cape Cod, and puts the gaming commission in charge of awarding the licenses. Foxborough is part of the Greater Boston zone, where potential contenders for its license include a proposed resort casino along Interstate 495 in Milford, and the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston.
The Milford proposal calls for an $850 million resort near Route 16. Developer David Nunes is partnering on the project with Bill Warner, owner of Warner Gaming, which manages the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Reaction in Milford has been mixed, while in some surrounding towns, like Holliston and Hopkinton, opposition has sprung up, though none of it as vocal as that in Foxborough and its neighbors.
There is also one license available for a slot-machine-only site.
Plainville - home to a harness racetrack that has been a prime candidate for a slots parlor license - is in a tough position, said Joseph Fernandes, the town administrator.
“Probably the most immediate concern is how does that affect the long anticipated possibility that Plainridge would end up with slots,’’ he said of the Foxborough proposal.
A slots parlor at the Plainridge Racecourse could bring direct benefits to the town, said Fernandes, while producing less impact than a full resort casino.
“The scale of both operations are dramatically different,’’ he said. “The impact that a casino will have on Foxborough far exceeds the impact slots would have on Plainville.’’
Likewise, the effect on surrounding communities would be on a different scale, he said.
Football games have meant more traffic and therefore more accidents on Route 1 and I-495, which both run through Plainville, said Fernandes. The addition of a casino across from the stadium is expected to increase traffic, putting a greater burden on Plainville’s public safety departments.
“I don’t anticipate that this is going to be decided on the merits and the merits alone,’’ said Fernandes. “It’s going to be decided more on political will, both for and against, and how do you predict that?’’
The local business community is hearing from both supporters and opponents.
“Some of the businesses around, especially the retail stores, think it would be a boon because it would bring more traffic to them,’’ said Jack Lank, president of the United Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has members in 16 area communities, including Foxborough, Norfolk, Plainville and Wrentham. “The biggest complaint I hear is it will be an absolute traffic nightmare on Route 1.’’
One argument making the rounds is that a casino would create the wrong kinds of jobs, but Lank questions that reasoning.
“In this economy, what’s not good enough?’’ said Lank. “To me, in the local economy, a job is a job.’’
Back on Norfolk’s Main Street, Toledo, the dry cleaning shop owner, seems like an unlikely supporter of the casino project, with her home close enough to Gillette Stadium to hear the noise of the crowds.
“Who are we to say, ‘No, you can’t build something?’ ’’ she said to Reed, who lives in Franklin, in the opposite direction from the casino site. “I think sometimes they’re after Kraft because he has the money. Could be a jealousy factor, too.’’
Reed doesn’t buy the arguments for a casino, even though he said he would likely patronize it.
“Why can’t Massachusetts be different?’’ he said. “If it’s about jobs, where do you draw the line? Why not have brothels?’’
Some of Toledo’s neighbors are far less supportive than she is.
Nancy Connors has lived on Everett Street since 1961. She calls her road Route 1B. She can see the stadium lights and hear the crowd roar, and she’s worried about the traffic and crime that a casino might bring.
“My feeling is this is a quiet little town that cannot stand the impact of the amount of people, and the type of people that will be coming into our town,’’ she said.
Norfolk Selectman Jim Lehan said he is strongly opposed to a casino in Foxborough, based on the prospect of increased traffic and sliding property values. No amount of mitigation money could make up for the potential harms, he said.
“I see nothing but bad things happening for our citizens with this,’’ he said. “We almost see this as our getting the majority of the problems but not the revenue. That doesn’t mean we can be bought.’’
Lisa Kocian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.