Monday, October 7, 2013

Foxboro After Termination, Not Mitigation

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, October 7, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Let’s be clear about something.  Officials and some others in Foxboro aren’t really worried about obtaining “mitigation” from the proposed operators of a slot gambling house in neighboring Plainville.  They are primarily interested in trying to stop the operation from ever opening.  If mitigation can help achieve that, they will use it.

            That is becoming increasingly obvious as town leaders go through the motions of trying to appear a part of the process when all they really want is to end it.  In fact, they seem to have almost completely given up all pretenses to the contrary.

            Now that Plainville citizens have voted by an overwhelming margin to agree to the proposal assumed by Penn National Gaming, Foxboro’s only role should be to make sure they get everything they are entitled to under the state’s new gaming law.  Who actually runs the slot house is almost irrelevant from a legal standpoint, as Foxboro should now be evaluating the impact of the operation as dictated by the actual agreement.

            But that’s not what is happening.  Instead, selectmen seem intent on questioning the right – if not the capability – of Penn National to even apply for the license. 

            The terms today are almost exactly the same as they were when Plainridge owners were the corporate entity seeking the state’s one slot license.  Only the names have changed.  While Foxboro certainly has both good reason and the right to be concerned about who is running the establishment, the framework from which mitigation must be considered has not really changed.

            That’s why it is both surprising and sadly amusing to watch the approach of selectmen to the mitigation debate.  This past week both Chairman Mark Sullivan and selectman Jim DeVellis complained the town’s ability to comment on the plan was restricted or voided by the Gaming Commission’s decision to allow Penn National as an applicant.

            DeVellis noted selectmen were hard-pressed to comment after the late decision.  He said the board’s respect for the Open Meeting Law in part prevented them from meeting in time to offer comments.

            Yeah, Foxboro’s respect for the Open Meeting Law has really caused them some hardships.  I mean, give me a break.  Foxboro has had many months to consider and comment on the current agreement.  The actual operational plan for the proposed parlor has changed little if it all.  Respect for the OML is the weakest of excuses.

            Foxboro officials this past week announced they were petitioning the Gaming Commission to order Penn National to consider Foxboro a “surrounding community”.  This would make the town eligible for mitigation funding.  Officials said they had been told by Penn National there were no plans to do this on their own.

            The next day Penn National announced they had submitted a letter designating Foxboro, Wrentham, North Attleboro and Mansfield as surrounding communities.  A spokesman for the gambling operator said, “We were surprised by their (Foxboro’s) reaction today.”

            Following a tension-filled public meeting with selectmen, the chairman of Foxboro’s Town Racino Committee resigned.  He had been attempting to objectively navigate the political quagmire created by the entire situation, but the committee’s actual charge still appears to be unclear to some.  Selectman Virginia Coppola said the committee had not reported in depth to selectmen in a timely fashion.

            Even a cursory look at Penn National reveals they are a much more qualified, financially stable, and experienced operator than Ourway Realty LLC, the original Plainridge applicant.  Foxboro selectmen can criticize the Gaming Commission all they want for allowing Penn to step in late, but it was within the existing regulations.

            And the Gaming Commission did a good job in investigating the Plainridge folks and discovering they were unqualified to be a license-holder.  They were thorough, they were fair, and they were timely.  That should inspire confidence in their abilities.

            Foxboro officials don’t want the slot house in Plainville.  Everyone gets that, and they are entitled and welcome to that opinion and position.  And Foxboro is eligible under state law to be considered for mitigation.  That is now undisputed.

            So perhaps that’s where local efforts could now be concentrated?  Maybe a more civil, less adversarial tone could be assumed by Foxboro officials? 

Plainville would probably welcome the respect that would show.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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