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Penn National to discuss mitigation with four towns

The developer of a proposed slots parlor at the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville said it will negotiate with four towns on a mitigation agreement that addresses unwanted consequences from a gambling operation.

Penn National Gaming Inc. announced the negotiations in a letter sent Wednesday night to officials in Foxborough, Mansfield, Wrentham, and North Attleborough.

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On Thursday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission deemed Penn National “suitable” to operate a slots parlor in the state.

Penn National’s letter was sent the night after Foxborough selectmen decided to ask the commission to declare it an “affected community,” which would pave the way for negotiations with Penn National.

Penn National’s letter was sent out the night after Foxborough selectmen decided to ask the commission to declare the town an “affected community,” which would pave the way for negotiations with Penn National.

At the selectmen’s meeting, Foxborough officials said they were seeking the commission’s intervention because Penn National had shown no inclination to negotiate.

“I can assure you that is not the case,” Penn National senior vice president D. Eric Schippers said in an interview Thursday.

In fact,In fact, Schippers said,, the letter formallylaunches negotiations with all four towns. Some options up for discussion are opportunities for job fairs and cross-marketing of assets, he said.

“We would do promotions with businesses in these communities like the Premium Outlets in Wrentham, the Comcast Center in Mansfield, and Patriot Place in Foxborough,’’ he said. “We will work together to create a regional draw, and there is a commitment to look at and study traffic.”

That was good news to North Attleborough Town Administrator Mark Fisher, who said selectmen would vote promptly to accept the offer to negotiate.

“The big issue for us is traffic on Route 152 and on Route 1,’’ Fisher said.

Mansfield selectmen on Wednesday quickly accepted Penn National’s offer to be named a surrounding community, but also opted to take up a more detailed discussion next week.

Town Manager William Ross was not immediately available for comment.

Wrentham Town Administrator William Ketcham said selectmen have hired special counsel to negotiate on their behalf, and will seek money from Penn National and the gaming commission to cover those costs and other studies.

“The Board of Selectmen is supportive of the decision of Plainville voters, and we wish them well,’’ Ketcham said of the townwide vote last month that approved a host agreement for the slots parlor. “But we also want to do our due diligence to protect Wrentham residents.”

Schippers said that if negotiations do not lead to an agreement, the parties would go into arbitration. Penn National also wants to come back to communities after a year to look at effects, positive and negative, and then address them, he said.

Schippers said that there have been no negative effects at any of Penn National’s other properties. The Pennsylvania-based company runs 28 gambling facilities in 17 states and Ontario, Canada.

In Foxborough, however, a committee studying the possible effects of a slot casino has said it would have wide-ranging drawbacks, such as increases in problem gambling and drunken driving, and added demands on water use.

The chairman of Foxborough’s Board of Selectmen, Mark Sullivan, said Thursday that he was glad Penn National has decided to negotiate, but he is not sure anything will come of it.

“That is what happens when you push back a little,’’ Sullivan said of the clash between the parties. “There will be definitely more to discuss, and we will see what happens. Only time will tell.

Foxborough officials were surprised last month by the Gaming Commission’s decision to allow Penn National to seek the state’s one available slots license after the original Plainville applicant, Ourway Realty LLC, failed a background check.

Other competitors for the license hope to locate slots parlors in Leominster and Raynham.

Plainville’s town administrator, Joseph Fernandes, said he has no problem with communities negotiating for mitigation of tangible impacts, such as North Attleborough’s contention that roads in that community may get some cut-through traffic. But he took issue with Foxborough’s concerns about traffic and water.

“Foxborough clearly has an agenda to kill this thing by throwing all kinds of mud and hoping something will stick in the minds of the gaming commission. I believe the commission is too smart for that,” Fernandes said.

“[Foxborough officials are] thinking their wells are going to dry up. I mean really, some of this is insanity,” he said.

“Five minutes of a Sunday football game at Gillette uses more water than this project will.”

Emotions over gambling are stillstillrunning high in Foxborough, a year after Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft teamed up in their unsuccessful bid to bring a casino to Route 1.

At Tuesday’s meeting, selectmen grilled Gaming Commission ombudsman John Ziamba. Some, like Virginia Coppola, said the new gambling statute provides a 60- to 90-day period to digest and comment on any host community agreement, but it was not applied to Penn National.

“When the legislation was passed people were concerned it be transparent,’’ Coppola said.

“The reason for rules and regulations is so that everyone is on the same playing field. But you changed the rules.”

Ziamba defended the commission, which he said held a two-day public hearing at its headquarters in Boston before the Plainville vote and determined that Penn National’s assumption of the existing pact was “within the confines of the Gaming Act.”

Selectman James DeVellis acknowledged that Foxborough had been asked to weigh in with comments, but was not given enough time to hold a meeting and develop a response.

“We were asked for comments and couldn’t give them,’’ he said. “It took our voice away.”

Foxborough resident Erin Earnst, a slots and casino opponent, noted that the Plainridge operation would be closer to some residential neighborhoods in Foxborough, Wrentham, and North Attleborough than to some neighborhoods in Plainville.

Earnst said she was glad town officials have told the Gaming Commission of their frustration “and the frustration of our community, that this process that is not playing out the way that the law was intended.”

Earnst and other casino and slots opponents are collecting signatures on a petition to place a question on the statewide ballot in November 2014 to repeal the state’s gambling legislation altogether.

Globe correspondent Ellen Ishkanian contributed to this article. Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.
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