A representative from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission heads to Foxborough next Tuesday, Feb. 26, to answer questions and address residents’ concerns should slot machines land at a horse track in neighboring Plainville.
The special appearance of the gaming commission’s ombudsman, John Ziemba, will take place nine months after a proposal to build a full-scale resort casino near Gillette Stadium fell apart in the face of heated opposition in Foxborough.
Plainridge Racecourse has more modest plans, with the harness track’s owners applying for the single license for a slots-only operation offered under the law expanding gambling.
The gaming agency’s representative was invited “to come to our board meeting to summarize the review and permitting process, and answer questions from the board and residents,” said James J. DeVellis, chairman of the Foxborough Board of Selectmen. “There will be only one slot house permitted in the state, and being a potential abutter, I want to make sure we understand the responsibilities and obligations from the developer.”
The slots license is expected to be issued by year’s end. Full casino licenses — up to one each for Greater Boston, Western Massachusetts and Southeastern Massachusetts — are expected to be issued starting next February, according to the Gaming Commission.
Plainridge is not the only bidder vying for the slots license.
Raynham Park, a former greyhound-racing track 15 miles southeast of Foxborough, has partnered with Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment to seek the same permit. To the north, PPE Casino Resorts wants to open a 24-hour slots parlor at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers. A wild card in the mix is Chicago casino tycoon Neil Bluhm, who filed a last-minute application last month without specifying whether he was seeking a license for a casino or a slots parlor — or where in Greater Boston it would be built.
What seems certain is none of the gambling facilities will be built in Foxborough, where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn dropped their plans after casino opponents were elected to the Board of Selectmen last May. Wynn has since set his sights on putting a casino in Everett.
“I think there will always be concerns about the impact of a casino regardless of the location, as many believe it is one business that takes rather than gives to the area and in general,” DeVellis said.
“Obviously, this was a contentious issue here in Foxborough, and there are two distinct opinions on the topic,” DeVellis said. “In my opinion, the negative impact to Foxborough is diminished the farther away a casino or slot house is when built. Others feel it was a missed opportunity.”
Mark Sullivan, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said little has changed in Foxborough since last year.
“I don’t think any feelings have changed at all,” Sullivan said.
“Speaking for myself, here is something that has totally turned the town upside down, turned friend against friend. The whole thing has been a disaster.”
Sullivan and DeVellis both are keeping an eye on developments across the town line, and recently attended a hearing on the expected traffic impact of expanding operations at the usually sleepy Plainridge.
Plainridge president Gary Piontkowski said he understands Foxborough’s interest in his plans but he will not be attending the meeting. He also dismissed concerns about the traffic that a slots parlor would add to roads in either town.
Traffic generated by Plainridge would grow from 2,800 to 6,534 vehicle trips per day if slot machines were added, according to a traffic analysis included with Plainridge’s draft environmental impact report.
By contrast, the nearby Lowes hardware store sees 7,856 vehicle trips a day, and the local Target department store has 17,610 vehicle trips per weekday and more than 25,000 on weekends.
The report also looked at traffic in Foxborough, where 34,000 vehicles a day go in and out of Patriot Place, next to Gillette Stadium.
“How do you think the traffic is going to be impacted by 6,000 cars 7 miles away? They already have 34,000 a day at Patriot Place. What’s the impact of adding slot machines?” Piontkowski said. “It’s a red herring.”
But DeVellis said selectmen would be remiss if they did not ask questions now. During the months of casino debate in town, residents and officials from surrounding towns raised their concerns and Foxborough officials listened.
He said it is in Foxborough’s best interest to examine the gambling issue from all angles — even in a neighboring town — rather than be left with regrets later.
For his part, Plainville Town Administrator Joseph Fernandes said he planned to attend the Foxborough meeting, which takes place on Feb. 26 in the Andrew A. Gala Jr. Meeting Room of Foxborough Town Hall.
“Obviously, this is something that has an impact on Plainville,” Fernandes said.