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Kraft, resort executive in casino talks

Plan involves Las Vegas figure Wynn Land would be leased for $1b facility

By Noah Bierman and Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / December 2, 2011
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Robert Kraft, one of the state’s most powerful businessmen, is in negotiations with one of Las Vegas’ biggest players, Steve Wynn, to propose a $1 billion casino near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, according to two people within the industry who are familiar with the talks.

The destination resort casino would be located on 200 acres across from the stadium and the Patriot Place mall. The gambling facility would be part of a larger complex that would also include a hotel, retail, restaurants, and large entertainment facilities.

While the deal has not been completed, the Krafts and Wynn, in secret negotiations for weeks, had hoped to reveal their plans with a major announcement in the next few days. Wynn is expected to be Kraft’s special guest at the game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette this Sunday.

Last night, in response to the Globe, The Kraft Group, which owns the New England Patriots and the land under negotiation, confirmed the talks.

“We believe that Wynn Resorts is best in class in the resort destination industry, and we’ve invited Steve Wynn to visit Foxborough to meet with residents and decide if there is mutual interest in exploring a resort destination here,’’ Kraft Group spokesman Jeff Cournoyer said in a statement.

He confirmed that Wynn will attend Sunday’s game “and talk to some residents and officials about what a project of the caliber of Wynn Resorts would mean for economic development in Foxborough.

“We have not reached an agreement to lease our land,’’ Cournoyer said. “We would only agree to proceed if there was mutual interest between Wynn Resorts and the town of Foxborough.’’

According to one of the sources, the project would employ 10,000 to 12,000 construction workers and create about 8,000 permanent jobs.

If finalized, the Foxborough proposal would provide direct competition with East Boston’s Suffolk Downs, considered by many to be the front-runner for the resort casino license that can be granted for the Greater Boston area under the state’s new law.

The Boston region, which is defined as including Foxborough, is one of three in the state where full-scale casino licenses will be granted. The others are designated for Western Massachusetts and the south coast. There, the law directs that the Mashpee Wampanoag be given exclusive bargaining rights before the license is put to bid.

NFL rules prohibit franchises from owning casinos. But they are silent as to whether team owners can lease land to casino operators. Under the proposal being worked out between Kraft and Wynn, the Kraft Group would lease the land to Wynn, who would own and run the casino, according to the industry sources.

After Kraft’s potential interest in a casino emerged in October, an NFL official told the Globe that the league would need to review any situation in which an owner leased land for a casino near a league stadium. But Kraft holds tremendous clout in the NFL and might be able to use his influence to win approval from fellow team owners.

Wynn - though one of the world’s top casino moguls with facilities in Nevada and Macau - can be unpredictable. He walked away last year from a high-profile deal to rescue a troubled Foxwoods casino project in Philadelphia that remains unbuilt. But he has shown continued interest in Massachusetts. He sent a top deputy to testify at the State House this year as lawmakers considered casino legislation.

A Wynn executive declined to comment last night and a spokesman did not return a call or an e-mail.

“We’ll know in 24 to 48 hours whether this will go or not,’’ one of the sources said last night.

In addition to negotiations between Kraft and Wynn, the proposal still faces a number of hurdles. The new state casino law, signed last week, requires approval in a local referendum for any casino. But the community of Foxborough has already expressed resistance to the idea.

The developer must also negotiate with neighboring towns, where there has also been opposition to large developments.

Kraft’s interest in a casino has been the source of speculation for months. Over the summer, Kraft’s attorneys drafted zoning changes in the town of Foxborough that would have permitted a casino on the property.

Both the Krafts’ spokesman and the town manager said they drafted the zoning changes at the community’s request, after the town manager had been approached separately by unnamed casino developers. The Foxborough Board of Selectmen later declined to advance the changes.

In October, the Kraft Group said in a statement that they “have absolutely no interest’’ in giving up control of their property across from the stadium, which they said was needed for parking. But they did not specifically rule out interest in a casino.

Kraft was noncommittal later in October when asked about the potential for a casino on the land.

“I don’t want to not say anything; I don’t want to say anything,’’ he said, pressed by a reporter at the State House.

At the time, Kraft was on his way into a meeting with other major business leaders who regularly convene with Governor Deval Patrick to offer advice on the state’s economy. The October gathering occurred just weeks before Patrick signed the state’s new casino legislation into law.

The new law, which authorizes one slots parlor in addition to the full-scale casinos, requires a minimum investment of $500 million in the casinos.

Suffolk Downs would not comment directly on the potential Wynn-Kraft deal yesterday or on what it means for the track’s proposed $1 billion resort casino in East Boston, but chief operating officer Chip Tuttle said the track is confident in its proposal.

“With a 76-year history as a gaming facility, we feel we have a solid foundation for a proposal that will maximize the economic benefits of building a world-class resort in the Boston area,’’ Tuttle said.

Though the NFL is skittish about any associations with gambling, it has relaxed its policy in at least one respect, allowing the Patriots and other teams to license lottery tickets.

The Kraft family has been developing the area around the stadium for years, including Patriot Place, a 1.3 million-square-foot shopping and entertainment complex adjacent to the stadium. The group is also pursuing a permanent commuter rail link and a pedestrian bridge to connect their properties now bisected by Route 1. The state has designated the property across from the stadium as a growth district, one of a few sites that can accommodate a significant development.

But Kevin Paicos, Foxborough’s town manager, told the Globe in October that he could not find one local resident who favors a casino.

However, the chairman of the Foxborough Board of Selectmen, Larry Harrington, said in an e-mail last night that the town should keep an open mind. “I am sure that if the Krafts are partnering with Mr. Wynn, that it will be a first-class facility,’’ he said.

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.

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