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In Foxborough, it can be hard to separate loyalty to Patriots’ owner from Kraft casino idea

Family connection irrelevant to some but key to others

Luck was certainly shining on Jim Fortune when a raffle ticket he bought for a local charity earned him season tickets for the Patriots. If things keep going his way, the 18-year Foxborough resident hopes to have a front-row seat at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis this weekend.

Foxborough is a football town, and residents like Fortune are not only true, vocal fans of the hometown team but also its owner, Robert Kraft, who with his family has built the National Football League franchise over almost two decades into a winning proposition while donating millions to local causes.

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That’s appreciated, Fortune said. But the $1 billion resort casino that Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn proposes to build on land owned by Kraft across Route 1 from Gillette Stadium is another matter entirely. The gambling project, Fortune and other opponents say, will bring nothing but trouble.

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a positive feeling for the Krafts, and now probably more so,’’ said Fortune, as the team heads into its showdown Sunday with the New York Giants. “But this is giving the town a stigma it doesn’t want. It’s like building a methadone clinic in Foxborough. Put a hotel on it? It’s still a methadone clinic.’’

Kraft and the Patriots are a winning combination, and some supporters of the casino venture say the town would be crazy to pass up the potential $10 million to $15 million in tax revenue each year from the project.

Admittedly still on the fence about the casino, lifelong town resident Bea Maloof said everyone in Foxborough should research the facts before making any decisions.

“My family is here, and I grew up here,’’ Maloof said. “I believe the Krafts have always had the community’s best interests in mind. They would never intentionally do anything bad.’’

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News that leaked out late last year about the casino idea that was quietly under discussion for months immediately split the community of some 17,000 people into warring camps.

Opponents are concerned not only that their elected officials were discussing such an important issue out of the public eye, but also that the traffic and crime such a proposition could generate would overwhelm the small town. They are also concerned that a potentially large wave of casino workers’ children would overwhelm the public school system. The disagreement hit a fever pitch at a contentious December selectmen’s meeting where the elected officials were not only fighting with one another but also yelling back at a boisterous crowd of nearly 700 people.

Still, a majority of the five-member board voted, amid raucous cheers and boos, to tell Kraft the town is not interested in playing host to a casino.

Casino opponents have collected several thousand signatures asking Kraft to stand by his word to withdraw the proposal if residents don’t want it. According to the state’s new casino legislation, Kraft cannot take a step further unless selectmen agree to enter into an agreement with him and Wynn.

Developers must also comply with local bylaws that currently do not allow gaming. For anything to pass, residents would have to vote to approve such a change. A spokesman for the Kraft Group did not have an immediate comment.

Supporters like Jen DeAngelis, meanwhile, said Kraft’s track record should not be ignored. She said she is frustrated with closed-minded residents who refuse to listen to reason.

“From what I’ve observed, read, and heard from them, it seems like this antigroup are also the ones who don’t really like having Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place in Foxborough,’’ she said. “I’m not saying they aren’t Patriots fans, but I do feel like they would rather the team and venue be located elsewhere.’’

DeAngelis, who moved with her family to Foxborough in March, said she respects the opinions of the anticasino residents, but that she is not pleased those thoughts seem to have been forced upon the rest of the town: “The reason I got involved with the issue is because I did not want this group speaking for me.

“As parents of two young boys, we wanted to settle down long-term in a safe, close-knit town,’’ she said. “Having Gillette Stadium here did not deter us from deciding that, and having this possible casino/resort that may be built will not drive us away. If anything, it has gotten us more excited to be living here.’’

Kraft has earned respect, DeAngelis said, and deserves at the very least to have his proposal heard.

Resident Shannon Sylvia, who said she wants to hear the proposal, said she doesn’t think the fact the Patriots are in another Super Bowl under Kraft’s ownership and leadership will have any bearing on whether people will have more confidence in any project in which he is involved.

“However, he brought in a fantastic stadium and a wonderful venue for shopping, entertainment, and dining with Patriot Place, which I absolutely love,’’ she said. “He has already proved that he is an intelligent, successful businessman, as well as a fantastic neighbor for the community. Based on history, I trust him to make intelligent, sound business decisions.’’

That may be so, but it isn’t the point, said casino opponent Stephanie Crimmins, another lifelong resident who has served as a spokeswoman for the grass-roots group No Foxborough Casino.

“Believe me, we are huge fans of the Patriots, and like so many others in town we can’t wait until they come home with another championship title,’’ Crimmins said.

“Mr. Kraft is an incredible businessman, but we are hopeful that people recognize that his intentions on Route 1 are not necessarily in the long-term best interests of the town. . . . The casino discussion is a perfect example of that. And we remain very concerned about all the negative impacts.’’

Among the concerns, opponents have said, is that Kraft’s attorneys helped write the language to change local zoning that was being considered by the Planning Board.

Some residents have also lost trust knowing that town officials, including Town Manager Kevin Paicos and selectmen chairman Larry Harrington, were involved in discussions about the casino plan months before the public or other selectmen were aware of it.

That information was only made known to the public much later.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.

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