The Kraft Group discussed a potential Foxborough casino with two top town officials last summer, months before the public, or other town officials, learned of plans to build a $1 billion gambling resort in their town.
How the issue of casino gambling came up at the meeting is a matter of dispute, though both sides confirm that Town Manager Kevin Paicos and Selectman Larry Harrington discussed casino issues privately with top Kraft executives, including Robert and Jonathan Kraft, in a meeting at Gillette Stadium organized by The Kraft Group. The meeting included a discussion of the need for zoning changes if a casino proposal was to move forward.
Shortly after that meeting, Paicos suggested that the town consider zoning changes to permit gambling on Route 1, saying he had been contacted by several developers interested in building a casino in town. The talks with The Kraft Group were not disclosed at the time, a fact first reported this week by The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro.
“I believe that the people in town and I were misled,’’ Selectwoman Lorraine Brue, a casino opponent, said yesterday. She said she had “no problem with behind-the-scenes meetings’’ to discuss development concepts, but that town boards should not be making policy decisions without all the facts.
“It didn’t allow me as a selectman to publicly vet what was going on,’’ she said.
Harrington, the board’s chairman, said last night that public officials, including the town manager and selectmen, meet as a matter of routine with developers who might be interested in building in the town.
“There wasn’t a conscious effort not to tell anybody,’’ he said. “We came back from that meeting and said: ‘Let’s bring it to the Planning Board. Let’s bring it to the Board of Selectmen and see if there’s any interest.’ ’’
The Foxborough Planning Board declined to endorse the zoning changes, and the Board of Selectmen voted 5 to 0 in September not to put the zoning changes on the town meeting warrant.
After the state legalized casino gambling in November, Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn announced plans to build a casino resort on land near Gillette Stadium, which he would lease from Kraft. Wynn has estimated that Foxborough would collect more than $10 million a year in local tax revenue from his project.
Harrington has reversed course since his September vote, arguing the town should consider the proposal and let the voters decide the matter in a referendum. He was on the losing side of a 3-to-2 vote last month in which selectmen went on record in opposition to a casino.
Paicos lashed out at The Kraft Group yesterday, accusing the developer of mischaracterizing the substance of the August meeting. The Kraft Group had said in a statement that the meeting was called to discuss water, sewer, and general development issues and evolved into a discussion about gambling after Paicos said he had been contacted by several casino developers interested in Foxborough.
Dan Murphy, vice president of business development for The Kraft Group, who was at the meeting last August, said yesterday that he did not recall who broached the subject of casino gambling at the Route 1 site.
“I do remember [Paicos] asking if we had been contacted by [casino developers], and we told him we had by a handful,’’ he said. “And Kevin said he had, too, and I think he used the number four.’’
Paicos called that description “utterly laughable,’’ insisting he had never heard any casino proposal in town until that meeting, when Kraft officials pitched the idea of a casino “specifically - specifically - to gauge our reaction to their proposal.
“The entire discussion was about their proposal to lease their land for gaming, to ascertain our interest, and, if we had any interest, what the first steps would be,’’ Paicos said.
In the weeks after the meeting, one casino and several real estate companies professing to represent casinos, contacted Paicos, he said, declining to name the casino because the company had asked for confidentiality.