Game On! Clash of the Casino Titans

By Jason Schwartz | Boston Magazine |

The Players

1. Robert Kraft, Owner, New England Patriots

Kraft has spent years turning the Patriots into winners, and Foxboro into his personal kingdom. He’s already built a new football stadium there, and in 2007 he added Patriot Place, the open-air shopping center complete with a movie theater and hotel. The only thing missing is a resort casino next door. NFL rules prohibit him from having an ownership stake, so he would have to lease his land to Wynn, who’d develop the casino on his own.

2. Steve Wynn, Chairman and CEO, Wynn Resorts

Wynn’s great innovation was realizing that luxury and decadence could draw customers just as well as the jingle of slot machines. From the theater he built at the Mirage for Siegfried and Roy to the multimillion-dollar art collection he amassed at the Bellagio (both properties he’s since sold) to the Ferrari-Maserati dealership in Wynn Las Vegas, his over-the-top designs are known for their opulence and attention to detail.

The Issue with Fickle Foxboro

Selectmen may have voted down the idea of a casino in Foxboro, but town manager Kevin Paicos says the action was nonbinding since it wasn’t in response to a formal proposal. It was more like a polite request that Wynn and Kraft please go away. Paicos says it’s his understanding that they will not. The next step is for the Foxboro duo to submit a formal application. The proposal will then have to clear the board of selectmen (where things are known to change — a September vote, for example, was 5–0 against allowing zoning for a casino. Kraft and Wynn have picked up a couple of votes since then, and perhaps more will follow in the months ahead.) Then they’ll need to win a townwide referendum. After that, two-thirds of town-meeting voters would have to vote to change zoning laws to allow for gaming. It’s a tall order, but not enough to stop Kraft and Wynn yet.

 

Tip Sheet

High Rolling: Wynn’s high-end style is fine in Vegas, where the gambling market is big enough that specializing in just its top level is profitable. But to be successful here, he’ll have to learn how to draw visitors from all walks of life. “Wynn tends to do a better job of cultivating the high-end gamblers, which is an expensive business to be in,” says University of Nevada Las Vegas gaming professor David Schwartz. He won’t have that luxury in Foxboro. Bottom Line: Wynn would be wise to scale things back, but it’s better to have too fancy a resort than one that skimps.

Temper Island: Wynn built a big chunk of the Vegas strip, but now runs only Wynn Las Vegas; its sister resort, Encore; and Wynn Macau. Over the years, he’s struggled to expand elsewhere in North America, striking out in Vancouver, New Orleans, and Connecticut, among other places. According to Bill Eadington, who studies gaming at the University of Nevada Reno, the brash Wynn “tends to implode, which is in many respects a cultural question. He’s got this phenomenal track record on actual performance; it’s really a challenge of, can he get through a competitive bid process without alienating the decision-makers?” Bottom Line: Wynn’s played it low-key in Foxboro so far, but give him enough time and he’ll likely shoot his mouth off.

Open Road: Simply put, a casino in Boston will make more money than one in Foxboro. “You’re going to see a revenue drop-off just based on proximity,” Eadington says. Then again, UMass Dartmouth’s Barrow says the infrastructure challenges in Foxboro aren’t as daunting as those in East Boston. Widening Route 1, or doing whatever needs to be done to ease Foxboro’s traffic flow, is simpler than dealing with dense Eastie. Bottom Line: This is a problem, since casinos are about money. 

A Krafty Operator: Suffolk Downs may wield a ton of political clout, but Kraft is a heavyweight himself. When Governor Deval Patrick proposed a gaming bill back in 2007, Foxboro was included in the state’s southern zone. That was a big problem: Each region gets just one casino license, and Foxboro was in a zone where the license had been all but set aside for the Mashpee Wampanoag. But this time around, Foxboro was moved into the more-winnable eastern district. Why? How? The bill was formed behind closed doors, so it’s a mystery, even to Jay Barrows, the House rep for the town. “I don’t know where that came from,” he says. Bottom Line: One thing is for sure: Thanks to the switch, Kraft has a much better chance of getting a casino license.

 

The Big Question: 10,000 jobs?

Bob Kraft has built up plenty of credibility around here, but his partner Wynn’s estimate that a casino in Foxboro would create up to 10,000 jobs raises serious questions. Suffolk Downs, by contrast, says its facility would lead to 2,250 jobs. So what gives? “The numbers coming out of Foxboro are just wildly inflated,” UMass Dartmouth gaming expert Clyde Barrow says. To get to 10,000, he adds, “You’d have to have the biggest casino in the western hemisphere, and you’d have to have the entire Massachusetts market.” At best, Barrow says, Wynn could get to 5,000 jobs (and that’s assuming New Hampshire doesn’t legalize casino gambling). Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods employ roughly 20,000 people between them, but the 50,000-square-foot gambling space Wynn has proposed for Foxboro is substantially smaller than the ones at the Connecticut casinos.