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Casino next to stadium unlikely to corrupt game, analysts say

By David Abel
Globe Staff / December 6, 2011
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As long as betting on sports remains illegal in Massachusetts, a casino built beside Gillette Stadium would be unlikely to corrupt players or tarnish the Patriots, sports analysts say.

The proposal by Patriots owner Robert Kraft to lease 200 acres in Foxborough to Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn for a $1 billion casino would provide a lure to tens of thousands of fans, many fueled with alcohol after tailgating.

But the proposed casino would be unlikely to make thrown games, point shaving, or other sham outcomes any more likely than it is today, the analysts said.

“I don’t see how this could affect the integrity of the game, given how prevalent gambling already is on our society,’’ said Richard Southall, an associate professor of sport administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has written extensively about fraud in sports. “It seems to me we’ve become, as a society, very comfortable with this. I wouldn’t really anticipate any ruckus.’’

Some opponents to gambling, however, said the negotiations disclosed last week between Kraft and Wynn smack of hypocrisy.

“It’s hypocrisy if the NFL would allow this, because it would show their opposition to gambling ends when one of their owners can make money from it,’’ said Arnie Wexler, who runs a national hotline to help compulsive gamblers.

He said there could also be risks for players and other team members.

“An athlete is a perfect target for being a compulsive gambler,’’ he said. “They have money, they can be unreasonably optimistic, and they often have large egos.’’

NFL rules ban teams from owning casinos, but they do not explicitly prohibit team owners from leasing land to casino operators, as Kraft has reportedly proposed.

After the Globe reported Kraft’s interest in a casino this fall, an NFL official said the league would have to review any deal involving an owner leasing land for a casino near a stadium.

Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist and consultant at Smith College, said he does not believe the NFL would stand in the way of a lease agreement, not only because Kraft is a powerful and popular owner, but also because other owners want to preserve their own rights.

“What the NFL really is trying to do is to say that ‘we care about our clean image, and we are going to place certain constraints on the ownership to protect that image, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to allow some indirect connections’ ’’ to gambling, he said.

Without wagers allowed on sports at the casino, there is little reason to expect any effect on games, said Peter Finley, an associate professor of sport management at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and author of “Sports Scandals.’’

“I don’t think we should be concerned as much with the proximity of a casino as with gambling that is unseen, such as the opportunity for an athlete or coach to place a wager online or to have a surrogate to do it for them,’’ Finley said. “That’s a lot more difficult to catch.’’

If approved, the proposed casino in Foxborough, which competes against a rival proposal at East Boston’s Suffolk Downs, would be the one casino the state’s new gambling law allows in the Boston area.

The law allows for two other full-scale casinos, one in Western Massachusetts and another on the South Coast, where the Mashpee Wampanoag would have exclusive bargaining rights before the state issued a license.

But David Ridpath, an assistant professor of sport administration at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, said the NFL should be concerned about any of its teams becoming too closely associated with gambling.

“That could compromise the integrity of the game,’’ he said. “But gambling on sports is here to stay. I don’t know if it’s a train we can stop, especially in this economy.’’

William Thompson, , a professor of public administration at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and author of “The International Encyclopedia of Gambling,’’ said the only red flag he could envision is if the casino allowed betting on football.

“But because there are laws against betting on games, I don’t see any conflict of interest,’’ he said. “I don’t see any issues.’’

Noah Bierman of the Globe staff contribute to this report. David Abel can be reached at

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