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Foxborough casino fight apt to go on

Town’s rebuff unlikely to be last word; Kraft’s next step is awaited

Bizuayehu Tesfaye, File/Associated Press

STEPHEN P. CROSBY: Head of the new Massachusetts Gaming Commission

A day after their casino proposal was rebuffed by the town of Foxborough, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and casino mogul Steve Wynn expressed dismay at the setback, but showed no sign of backing down from their plan to build a casino near Gillette Stadium.

“We’re disappointed with the board’s decision to deny Foxborough taxpayers the due process they are entitled under the state’s gaming law,’’ Wynn Resorts and the Kraft Group said in a statement. “We have not made any decisions regarding next steps.’’

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The 3-to-2 rejection by the town’s Board of Selectmen Tuesday night does not halt the process.

Indeed, Foxborough officials are convinced that the developers will forge ahead, despite the opposition, in hope of winning supporters. But it shows how steep a battle Kraft and Wynn could face if they want a casino near the Foxborough sports and entertainment complex.

Under the new state law allowing casino gambling, a developer has to win the support of voters in a referendum to be eligible to apply for one of three casino licenses.

But before a casino package can be considered by a town’s voters, an agreement has to be negotiated with local leaders.

The vote by Foxborough selectmen made it clear they are not interested in talking.

‘There absolutely will not be casino gambling in any community that does not want it.’

Stephen P. Crosby (above) Head of the new Massachusetts Gaming Commission
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“There absolutely will not be casino gambling in any community that does not want it,’’ said Stephen P. Crosby, the recently appointed head of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which will ultimately award the licenses. “The governor and the Legislature were slam-dunk clear on that point.’’

Crosby pointed out that there is nothing in the law that requires a town that opposes a casino proposal to hold a referendum to reject it.

Still, town officials said they do not expect Wynn and the Kraft Group to back down.

“We would hope that in light of such an overwhelming negative response, that they would take a message from that, respect it, and go away,’’ said Town Manager Kevin Paicos.

“But those are all nonbinding . . . and no one can say in truth that it represents the will of the voters,’’ he said. “Our supposition is that they will ignore the board’s vote and that they will go forward.’’

Yesterday, a procasino group, Jobs for Foxboro, posted on its Facebook page the telephone number, home address, and e-mail address of Selectman Mark Sullivan, whose swing-vote decision to oppose the casino proposal doomed it.

“Please contact him and let him know that residents want to see a proposal on the table before making a decision,’’ the group urged.

Sullivan, who was inundated with calls yesterday, said the pressure on local officials facing a $1 billion casino resort proposal is “just massive.’’

“None of us [is] equipped to be faced with this,’’ he said. “I thought I’d seen a lot of controversial situations, but none of them even compare to this.’’

If the developers continue to push to have their proposal heard, it is unclear what the next step will be.

Under the casino law, a developer’s first step is to present the town with a detailed proposal outlining plans for construction, potential impacts on the town, and benefits that might help absorb the impacts of new development, such as addiction counseling and traffic mitigation.

Any casino proposal has to satisfy local zoning requirements, and in the past, Foxborough voters have refused to support zoning changes that would have accommodated racino proposals.

Then, if town officials reach an agreement with the developer, they would ask voters for their approval in a referendum.

What if the selectmen refuse to seek that referendum?

A referendum can be requested by the Town Meeting, but it remains unclear what exactly the voters would be deciding, if the selectmen refuse to hammer out an agreement with the developer.

Further complicating the picture, the local officials are dealing with incomplete regulations.

The gaming commission that Crosby heads has yet to be fully empanelled, and it has not yet written all the rules and regulations that will help local officials weigh the costs and benefits to their communities.

“Anyone that’s negotiating with a developer right now is doing it in the dark,’’ Paicos said. “Even a community that’s favorably inclined can’t really finish the job in the next several months.’’

That means the debate that Foxborough officials tried to end Tuesday night has barely begun and that pressure is likely to intensify on local leaders.

Two of the five members of the Board of Selectmen have terms that expire May 7.

One of them is chairman Lawrence J. Harrington, who voted in favor of the casino proposal Tuesday, but has not decided whether to run for reelection.

“I would certainly suggest to you that if you were a betting person,’’ Harrington said, “the casino issue will come up in the May election.’’

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.
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