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Foxborough will be first test of casino referendum process

NOW THAT casinos are legal in Massachusetts, the battle that dominated Beacon Hill for years heads directly to Bay State cities and towns. It’s one that municipalities should approach rationally, weighing each proposal carefully on its merits.

In Foxborough, the impact of expanded gambling is suddenly more than abstract theory. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Las Vegas gambling mogul Steve Wynn are looking to develop a $1 billion resort casino complex near Gillette Stadium.

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The project would bring in new revenue, infrastructure, and an estimated 10,000 new jobs. But Foxborough already juggles Gillette Stadium’s busy schedule of football, soccer, and concerts. Turning the town into a gambling mecca is bound to attract more traffic and a more transient population, and some residents are already expressing concern about changing the character of the community.

In their first public discussion of the Gillette Stadium proposal, Kraft and Wynn said a casino resort would be designed to look “like it fits in the woods’’ and reflect the “bucolic’’ nature of Foxborough. They also said they would not wage a protracted battle and are seeking a local vote by spring.

For any community weighing the prospect of a casino, there are many dimensions to consider. They include the overall plan, the specific building design, the projected benefits to the surrounding community, and the investment levels and overall financial stability of the people behind the proposals. Any downside should also be honestly addressed. Making all the information easy to obtain and understand is the responsibility of all those involved, including the media.

As Foxborough residents prepare to give serious thought to the pros and cons of a venture that could define the future of their town, it’s time for the public at large to get similarly engaged in the casino issue. As lawmakers wrestled with the concept of expanded gambling, polling periodically showed that Massachusetts citizens supported it. Now that they got what they said they wanted, those same citizens should make sure the best outcome is reached where ever casinos are allowed to spring up.

For some local communities, it may turn out that what residents thought they wanted is not what they really want in their own backyard. But what’s important is that all parties work within the referendum process, and give it their full attention and respect.

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