Anticasino candidates head into Foxborough’s Board of Selectman’s contest Monday with an overwhelming lead in campaign donations, reflecting intense activism by casino opponents in an election widely viewed as a referendum on a proposed gambling resort in the town.
Regardless of the election’s outcome, Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn has pledged to forge ahead with a campaign to bring his plan for a $1 billion resort and casino across from Gillette Stadium to a townwide referendum.
But a victory by anticasino candidates would be seen by opponents as a setback for the developer.
“I think it should be a death blow, but I’m always wary,’’ said former Selectman Paul Mortenson, a critic of the Wynn proposal who is hoping for a sweep by casino opponents on Monday. “I would have thought the previous no’s would have been enough.’’
Collin Earnst, a spokesman for No Foxboro Casino, a group opposed to the project, said he anticipates a sweep by anticasino candidates. “If the numbers are what we expect them to be, we’ll go to Mr. Kraft and ask him to reconsider,’’ he said.
By a 3-to-2 vote last December, the Board of Selectmen opposed the Wynn project, saying it was not interested in negotiating with Wynn over the conditions under which the town would host a casino. Opponents cheered the decision and hoped it would kill the project. But the decision is not final and the board could reconsider any time.
Wynn responded with a methodical public relations campaign, which has included door-to-door canvassing, house parties and cocktail receptions, letters and DVDs from Wynn mailed to every household in Foxborough, and, recently, cable television and radio advertising.
The company’s campaign to build public pressure on selectmen to negotiate and bring the project to a vote will continue, no matter which candidates prevail on Monday.
“Our communication efforts are not connected to, nor intended to influence, the Foxborough Board of Selectmen’s election,’’ said Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver said in an e-mail. “Our goal is to communicate, via a series of letters, advertising and online videos, the benefits of the resort development project. That effort began months ago with our DVD mailing and will continue past the Board of Selectmen’s race.’’
Monday’s election is nonpartisan. Voters can choose up to two candidates and the top two vote-getters will be elected, said Foxborough Town Clerk Bob Cutler.
The candidates include challenger Virginia M. Coppola, a former state representative who says she opposes the casino. She leads the field with $12,726 raised, according to campaign documents filed April 30. She reported more than $10,000 in campaign expenses, the bulk of which went to printing, postage, and advertising costs.
Incumbent selectwoman Lorraine Brue, who is also against the project, reported raising nearly $9,700, against $5,726 in expenses. Brue voted against negotiating with Wynn over having a casino in Foxborough and has been a steadfast critic of the proposal.
Incumbent Larry Harrington, the board’s chairman, who has been considered generally more friendly to the project, reported just one contribution: $4,284, which came from his own pocket. He spent the entire amount on signs, printing, postage, and advertising, he reported.
Longtime School Committee member Martha Slattery reported $2,150 in receipts, though that included a $2,000 loan.
Harrington and Slattery have said the town needs more details from Wynn before it can make an intelligent decision on the casino. Harrington has said frequently that the entire town, not just one board, should decide the fate of the casino project in a referendum.
Wynn, who has developed some of the most elaborate gambling resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, has proposed a resort and casino on land owned by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Wynn has said the project would generate at least $10 million in tax revenue for the town every year. But foes say no amount of money is worth risking the town’s rural character.
People on each side of the debate complain that the casino issue has divided the town and set neighbors against each other. One new citizens’ group, calling itself Our Town, Our Vote, says the only way to end the divisiveness is to have a vote.
“It’s just so caustic,’’ said Joanne Hensas, the group’s committee chairwoman. Settling the matter with a public vote “is not going to heal the whole thing, but it will put the issue to bed.’’
Polls for the selectmen’s race are open Monday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Cutler anticipated a turnout of more than 50 percent, which would be high for a town election. Foxborough has about 10,760 registered voters.