Steve Wynn drops Foxborough casino proposal
Decision follows Foxborough vote
Casino developer Steve Wynn abandoned plans Tuesday to build a Foxborough gambling resort on land owned by Robert Kraft, a decision that reshuffles the competition for the sole Greater Boston casino license by eliminating a top-tier competitor.
Wynn’s retreat - which leaves Suffolk Downs the leading contender in the Greater Boston region - was announced a day after anticasino candidates swept the Foxborough selectmen race. That vote marked the first ballot-box defeat for a would-be casino developer in Massachusetts.
The vote also underscores the difficulties in locating a casino resort within the most populous region.
“Finding a site in Eastern Massachusetts with great highway access in a town willing to work with you is like finding a needle in a haystack,’’ said developer David Nunes, who is pulling together a bid to build a casino in Milford that would compete with the Suffolk Downs proposal. “There will be a limited pool of applicants.’’
Clyde Barrow, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth professor and a specialist on gambling, said many towns along major highways in Greater Boston are demographically similar to Foxborough, where many were unmoved by Wynn’s promises of tax revenue and jobs.
“It’s predominantly affluent, suburban bedroom communities,’’ said Barrow. “A casino is not going to look any better to those people than it did to Foxborough.’’
Wynn’s representatives declined to say whether he has any future plans for Massachusetts.
Although Foxborough had been seen as the main competition to Suffolk Downs, there was no open gloating by officials there, who are known for exceedingly cautious public statements.
“Our approach to this project - that we are going to have to earn a license based on the merits of our development proposal to create a world-class destination in a world-class city - is unchanged,’’ said Chip Tuttle, Suffolk Downs chief operating officer.
The decision to abandon Foxborough is also a boon for Plainridge Racecourse in nearby Plainville, which is seeking a state license to build a slot parlor at the track. It is a short drive from Wynn’s proposed site near Gillette Stadium on land owned by Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. The state’s casino law allows one gambling resort in each of three regions of the state, and one slot parlor.
“It makes us more comfortable that there is not a casino bid 4 miles away,’’ said Plainridge’s president, Gary Piontkowski. “It puts us in a little better position. I’m sure my fellow horsemen at Suffolk Downs are having a celebratory day.’’
Foxborough voters effectively ended Wynn’s casino bid on Monday by filling the two selectman seats on the ballot with anticasino candidates: one an incumbent and the other a challenger who replaced a more casino-friendly selectman. The vote shifted the five-member board further against the proposal, with four members opposed.
No casino company can apply for a state license unless voters of the host community endorse the proposal in a referendum. And although Wynn had previously vowed to push for a referendum vote regardless of the results of the vote in the selectmen race, even supporters of the project agreed Tuesday that pressing on despite the overwhelming vote would be quixotic.
“With Monday’s election, we believe the citizens of Foxborough have spoken,’’ said the Kraft Group, in a statement. “As we originally committed, we have heard them and respect their collective voice. With that democratic statement . . . we will be suspending our efforts regarding a destination resort development.’’
Wynn’s company, in a statement Tuesday, was equally resigned. “Yesterday’s election demonstrates the community’s will and Wynn Resorts respects the outcome,’’ the company said.
Opponents in Foxborough celebrated their victory, and quickly extended an olive branch to Kraft, the town’s largest taxpayer.
“We are incredibly grateful to the citizens of Foxborough for coming out in force and also incredibly appreciative of Mr. Kraft for listening to residents,’’ said Stephanie Crimmins, an organizer of the citizens group No Foxborough Casino. “We thank him for his generosity and look forward to a continued, productive relationship going forward.’’
Supporters took the defeat hard.
“Wynn is the best of the best and the town let him walk away,’’ said Millie Cetrone, a realtor with Century 21 on Main Street and an ardent casino backer. “This was the best place for a casino and we let it slip through our little fingers.’’
Kraft declined to be interviewed Tuesday.
Spokesmen for Wynn declined to comment further, leaving unanswered the question of whether Wynn would choose another site in Massachusetts or focus on projects elsewhere, as he had suggested he would do.
In a March interview with the Globe, Wynn said he would leave Massachusetts if Foxborough turned him down. “I’m not going to go to another location,’’ he said. “To hell with it. It’s either there or it’s nowhere.’’
Roger Gros, publisher of Global Gaming Business magazine, doubts Wynn will reconsider Massachusetts, noting that he has walked away from other states, such as Pennsylvania, when his plans hit a roadblock.
“He loses interest in these things when he loses a round like this,’’ said Gros.
Wynn also recently had another casino approved in the lucrative China market and is locked in a messy boardroom legal fight with a former partner. “I wouldn’t expect him to find another site right now, while he has so much else on his plate.’’
Wynn, 70, a billionaire, art collector, and one of the most prolific developers of high-end hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, thought he had the perfect location in Massachusetts, and the perfect partner in Kraft, a celebrity developer heralded for philanthropy as well as for his team’s Super Bowl championships. Wynn had proposed leasing Kraft’s land for the development.
The hostile reaction from local townspeople and some local officials seemed to puzzle Wynn, who has spent his adult life in and around the gambling business. He plied residents with letters and a video DVD promoting the benefits of the resort: thousands of jobs, up to $15 million per year in local taxes, and a place to shop, dine, and see shows. He even promised a skating rink.
“You’ve got to have a reason to be against it, theoretically,’’ Wynn said in March.
In the end, Foxborough was unwilling to risk changing the community, despite the potential reward.
The divisive casino debate split the town, tested friendships, turned public meetings into shout-fests, and even led to an alleged death threat against a town selectman. It also strained town government’s long relationship with Kraft and leaves Kraft’s vacant land without a development proposal.
“I’m hoping the town’s relationship with the Kraft Group gets better,’’ said Dan Flynn, who campaigned for the casino as part of the group Jobs for Foxboro. “Hopefully they can develop that property and there will be jobs there.’’