The Fate of the Casino in Foxborough

It’s CASINO-MANIA! Or at least that’s what it seems like after a weekend of full saturation news on Bob Kraft and Steve Wynn’s plan to bring a shiny new gambling palace to Foxborough. (Can I please be the first to suggest Wes Welker themed slot machines? Get it? It’s because he’s a slot receiver … and he’s MONEY!) Since the casino law splits the state into three zones, providing a casino license for each, Kraft and Wynn would be in direct competition with the Suffolk Downs group as well as developer David Nunes in Milford in the so-called Zone A, which stretches from Boston out to Worcester and down to Foxborough.

But Suffolk Downs and Nunes aren’t Kraft and Wynn’s only problems. One of the biggest impediments for them could come from the southeastern zone, or Zone C. That’s where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which is on the hunt for a casino site itself, is located. The casino law gives the Mashpee a distinct advantage over other developers in the state, so if the tribe finds a spot they like and are able to get all the approvals and make all the deals they need, they are very likely to be granted a license. (Read all about the Mashpee and their challenges here.)

The issue for Kraft and Wynn is that Foxborough, despite being in Zone A, borders Zone C. If the Mashpee choose a spot for their casino, say, a 20-minute drive from Foxborough, the yet-to-be-formed state gaming commission, which will award the licenses, may decide it doesn’t want two casinos so close to each other. That could very much hurt the Patriot Place bid.

Of course, the Mashpee have not yet settled on a site. There have been, however, a couple of recent reports out on where they might go. First, over the weekend, the Enterprise out of Cape Cod cited sources saying that Bridgewater-Raynham was emerging as a spot under “serious consideration.” Then, this morning, Southcoast Today reported that the group that owns an option on the so-called Hicks-Logan site in New Bedford is “in talks” with the Mashpee.

This morning, I spoke with a source close to the tribe and, well, not so fast, my friend. The source discounted both reports and said it was too soon to expect any announcement from the Mashpee. “The tribe is still in an evaluation stage of different sites,” the source added.

Elizabeth Isherwood, a spokesperson for the Hicks-Logan site, also clarified that the New Bedford group had only reached out to the tribe and was not actually in dialog with it. “It’s courting. That’s it, at this point,” she said. And chances are, this courting won’t go so well: the Mashpee have long planned on building a full-fledged resort around their casino, complete with a golf course and restaurants and all the bells and whistles. It’s unlikely there’d be space for something that expansive in urban New Bedford.

As for Bridgewater, when I spoke to folks in town hall there a few weeks ago, the consensus was that nothing was doing on the casino front (I called back again this morning, but haven’t heard back yet). Raynham seems even more unlikely. The tribe’s talks with George Carney, owner of the track there, fell apart weeks ago, and Marylin Whalley, the town’s director of community planning & development, tells me that there are no other plots of land in town large enough to accommodate a casino.

So to review:

1. The fate of Bob Kraft and Steve Wynn’s casino gambit will likely depend heavily on where the Mashpee Wampanoag attempt to build their casino.

2. The Mashpee Wampanoag have not yet decided where to attempt to build their casino.

3. Nobody seems to quite know where the Mashpee Wampanoag are going to go. Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure this one out. There have been several rumors, but so far every one has been shot down. That means that either the Mashpee are very good at playing their cards close to the vest or that they themselves still have no idea where they’re going to try to build. The tribe has exclusivity on Zone C until July 31, 2012, when other bidders would be allowed to enter the fray if the Mashpee don’t have something locked down in time. Considering that time pressure, every day that goes by without an announcement from the tribe, it looks more and more like they have as little idea where they’ll build as anyone else.