A major Las Vegas casino operator planned to visit the home of the New England Patriots at the invitation of the team's owner, Robert Kraft, to gauge interest in a potential resort on land the team owns near its stadium.
Steve Wynn, the billionaire CEO of Wynn Resorts Ltd, was scheduled to attend Sunday's game between the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., and talk to residents, according to a spokesman for The Kraft Group.
A state law signed by Gov. Deval Patrick last month would authorize three resort-style casinos and one slots parlor in Massachusetts. Casino bids will be reviewed by an as-yet-to-be-formed gambling commission. One slots parlor would be allowed in each of three geographic zones in the state, with Foxborough part of a zone that also includes Boston.
"We believe that Wynn Resorts is best in class in the resort destination industry, and we've invited Steve Wynn to visit Foxborough to meet with residents and decide if there is mutual interest in exploring a resort destination here," Kraft spokesman Jeff Cournoyer said in a statement Friday.
"He'll attend the game Sunday and talk to some residents and officials about what a project of the caliber of Wynn Resorts would mean for economic development in Foxborough," he added.
The Krafts own a 200-acre parcel across from the stadium and the Patriot Place retail complex. A lawyer for the group recently drafted a proposed change to town bylaws that could permit a casino to be built, but town officials have not approved the change.
Cournoyer said the team has not reached an agreement to lease the land and would proceed only if Wynn Resorts and the town were interested in a casino project.
The National Football League prohibits teams from owning casinos, and a league policy warns of potential severe penalties for any league personnel, including owners, who associate "with gamblers or with gambling activities in a manner tending to bring discredit to the NFL."
It is not clear whether the rules would bar a team from leasing land it owns to a casino developer.
"Nothing has been presented to us concerning the specifics of any arrangement. If and when that occurs, we will evaluate the transaction under our policies," Brian McCarthy, the NFL's vice president of communications, said Friday.
The new Massachusetts casino law requires the approval of voters in host communities as well as agreements with officials in surrounding cities or towns that might be affected by the development of a casino in a neighboring community.
State Rep. Daniel Winslow, R-Norfolk, citing reports of discussions between Kraft and Wynn, asked the state transportation department Friday to suspend any discussions related to a proposed expansion of commuter rail to Foxborough until it was known whether a casino is planned for the town. Winslow said a state study has estimated that an expansion of commuter rail to Foxborough and surrounding towns would cost $84 million to construct and $6 million for annual operations.
"With two billionaires poised to privately benefit from rail expansion, it would be fiscally irresponsible for any public funds to be expended on this project," Winslow wrote in a letter sent to Jody Ray, director of railroad operations for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Winslow, who voted in favor of the casino law, wrote that a publicly-funded rail expansion would create an unfair advantage for casino developers in Foxborough, if competing developers in other parts of the state were forced to shoulder the costs of infrastructure upgrades associated with their proposals. He also said the law requires the gambling commission to determine effects of casino development on surrounding communities and warned against an "end-run around" the panel's jurisdiction.
The five commission members will be selected by a combination of Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steven Grossman, with the law calling for the panel to be in place within about four months.
The owners of the Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston plan to seek a license for a resort casino at the site and would be in direct competition with any bid that is made for a casino in Foxborough.
Wynn Resorts operates a luxury hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip and a resort in Macau, China.