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Casino rivals gauge support

Contact voters in Foxborough and near Suffolk

By Mark Arsenault
Globe Staff / December 17, 2011
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A marketing researcher has been polling voters in several communities around Suffolk Downs to measure local support for a casino project at the track and to identify the public officials who wield the greatest influence among the people, according to residents polled.

Suffolk Downs officials confirmed yesterday that they are behind the recent surveys in Boston, Revere, Winthrop, and Chelsea. “We can never do enough listening to the local community,’’ said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer. He said Suffolk Downs has polled “periodically’’ to help inform the development of its casino proposal. He declined to share the latest poll questions or to comment on the results.

In Foxborough, Wynn Resorts, the company that wants to build a $1 billion casino project near Gillette Stadium, has hired a consultant that specializes in computerized data analysis and mapping technology for political campaigns, relatively new tools that cutting-edge campaigns employ to identify potential voters, tailor their political messages, and get their supporters to the polls.

With the fate of billion-dollar investment plans resting on public ballots, well-heeled casino developers in both communities are using sophisticated electioneering techniques. A Suffolk Downs project would have to be approved by voters in East Boston and Revere, which share the track. Wynn’s proposal would have to win the backing of the voters of Foxborough.

“You’re going to see some pretty sophisticated campaigns where the developers put up a lot of money,’’ said Clyde Barrow, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth professor and casino specialist.

Wynn Resorts intends to compete with Suffolk Downs for the right to build the casino authorized in the Greater Boston-Worcester area, which, as delineated in the state law, includes Foxborough. Wynn’s new consultant, Sage Systems of Boston, was founded by Democratic political strategist Frank Perullo, an East Boston native and Suffolk University graduate. He did not respond to messages left with his office Thursday and yesterday.

Wynn’s spokesman was vague in describing the consultant’s mission. “Sage Systems [will] assist us with our communication efforts in Foxborough,’’ the company said in a statement. “Sage Systems is working with local residents who are interested in supporting the hotel project in Foxborough.’’

Hiring Sage, a voter identification and turnout specialist, makes sense for a casino referendum, Barrow said. “Even when the polls show a high level of support for a casino project . . . the opponents tend to be more motivated and turn out to vote at a higher ratio,’’ he said. He cited, for example, the 2006 statewide casino vote in Rhode Island, which was crushed at the ballot box despite polls that suggested a much closer vote.

Wynn Resorts has also reached out to voters with letters mailed to 8,000 Foxborough households and through advertisements in local papers. In these, the company urges voters to keep an open mind on the project until developer Steve Wynn has a chance to present his designs and detail the possible economic benefits to the town on Jan. 10.

Suffolk Downs has used similar techniques, mailing letters and fact sheets to 14,000 households around the track and running the letter as an advertisement in local papers. The letter, signed by Tuttle, promises a “world-class destination combining a hotel, restaurants, shopping, entertainment, gaming, and horse racing.’’ He pledged that over the next several months the developers “will begin to roll out specific and more detailed plans so that the community can better understand and provide us feedback and ideas.’’

While voters in East Boston and Revere would have a say in whether Suffolk Downs can apply for a casino, the law would also allow for a citywide referendum in Boston if local officials choose to expand the vote.

Revere resident Patti Braid said she was called by the research company last week. Her mother in East Boston and several friends were also called, she said. The pollster asked Braid what she thought of the casino proposal at Suffolk Downs, if she favored or opposed it, and what concerns she had, such as traffic.

The questioner also wanted Braid’s opinion of several local public officials, including her thoughts on “their credibility and whether their opinions would sway you,’’ she said.

She recalled being asked about Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, state Senator Anthony Petruccelli, state representatives Kathi-Anne Reinstein and Carlo Basile, Councilor Sal LaMattina of Boston, and Dan Rizzo, Revere’s mayor-elect.

The researcher also asked her opinion of John Ribeiro, she said. He is founder of the Neighbors of Suffolk Downs, a citizens group opposed to a casino at the track.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com

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