Amid all the talk on Beacon Hill about the positive effects casino gambling would have on our state, did anyone ever mention the name Steve Wynn?
Surprisingly, and with the process of awarding casinos not even started, the Las Vegas entertainment magnate has entered into a partnership with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft that would transform once-sleepy Foxborough into a mecca for gamblers. Suffolk Downs has been considered a lock for one of the three casinos. But only a fool would bet against an alliance of the most powerful man in Las Vegas with Kraft, one of the most respected businessmen in New England.
It might have been naive to think that the casino business would be any less glitzy here than elsewhere, even with the concerted spin about how gambling could come to Massachusetts without the misery it has inflicted on some other locales.
Still, the notion of a casino next to Gillette Stadium underscores how deeply casinos are going to transform their new home state.
Why would Kraft want in on the casino business? Perhaps because even an extremely successful sports franchise can never have enough revenue. Look at the building of Gillette itself: An ordinary, actually substandard football stadium was replaced by a megacomplex that includes restaurants, a concert facility, and even a Victoria’s Secret. Kraft got to where he is by thinking big. And casinos, clearly, are the next big thing.
It’s harder to understand why Wynn wants to partake in a venture that is, by his standards, small potatoes. The man developed many of the landmarks on the Las Vegas Strip: Bellagio, the Mirage, Treasure Island. He no longer owns any of those; his current holdings on the Strip are Wynn Las Vegas and Encore. By no estimate would any Massachusetts casino enter that league. Yet he was in Foxborough yesterday, surveying the territory.
The people who supported gambling like this move. It confirms that casinos will be big business, and helps assuage concerns that Massachusetts lawmakers, through their endless dithering, had substantially lowered the value of casinos.
This is bad news for the opponents, for exactly the same reasons. If Steve Wynn is coming to town, that signals that the casino industry could become a beast that will strain the state’s ability to regulate it. This is not going to be Suffolk Downs or Plainridge with blackjack tables.
Foxborough would have to approve any casino, and so far the town has appeared wary, with good reason. The Patriots overwhelm the town 10 to 12 times a year. Putting a casino across the street would be the equivalent of hosting a game every night. The town manager told the Globe a couple of months ago that he didn’t know of a resident who supports a Foxborough casino.
Still, no one is closing the door completely. If there is one thing municipal governments like, it is money.
Thus, Larry Harrington, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, says he is keeping an open mind, certain that whatever is being proposed by titans like Kraft and Wynn will be first-rate. Good move, Larry: Never show your hand.
One person who is undoubtedly keeping close watch over this is Governor Deval Patrick. Signing on to casino gambling after years of hand-wringing was the single most dramatic act of his tenure. In years to come, he will be judged not only by casinos’ effect on the state’s economy, but on how they affect the quality of life in a state that long considered that sort of gambling beneath its dignity, an industry defined by desperation.
Perhaps Massachusetts can show that there is a way to reconcile casinos and quality of life, though I wouldn’t bet on it. The good people of Foxborough are about to get an offer that will be very, very hard to refuse. And the rest of us are about to find out if we had any idea what Beacon Hill just agreed to.
Correction: An earlier version of this column called Wynn the owner of the Mirage, Treasure Island, and the Bellagio. Although Wynn developed these properties, he no longer owns them. His current Las Vegas holdings are Wynn Las Vegas and Encore.