Pros and anti's square off over Gettysburg casino proposal

Piles of petitions against the proposed Gettysburg casino line a table as the Gaming Control Board hears testimony.
Piles of petitions against the proposed Gettysburg casino line a table as the Gaming Control Board hears testimony.
Posted: September 01, 2010

GETTYSBURG - The developer of a proposed casino Tuesday called this historic community the "last untapped gaming marketplace" in Pennsylvania and contended that his casino would rejuvenate the area's recession-ravaged economy while respecting its rich history and tradition.

David LeVan, a onetime Conrail chairman who wants to develop the casino a half-mile from Gettysburg National Military Park, told state gaming officials at a packed hearing that his $75 million Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino would lure new jobs, more tourists, and much-needed tax revenue.

He also said it would not affect the 6,000-acre park, one of the nation's first hallowed grounds, where 160,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought a bloody battle over three days in the summer of 1863 that helped seal the outcome of the Civil War.

"This can be done right," LeVan told the Gaming Control Board in a video presentation he and associates introduced and narrated at Tuesday's hearing, for which hundreds showed up to testify, including preservationists, historians, and local residents. "This will be done well."

A number of towns and communities, including Philadelphia, have shown that gambling and heritage tourism can coexist, LeVan testified.

LeVan, a local philanthropist who lives across from the park's visitor center and has invested $4 million in the Gettysburg battlefield and other local preservation projects, was turned down by the gaming board when he attempted in 2005 to build a larger casino at a site farther from the battlefield.

This time, LeVan is asking the board to let him put slot machines and table games in an existing hotel and conference center.

He and other investors are competing against three other bidders to snag the last of the state's two "resort" licenses. Those licenses allow 600 slot machines - as opposed to 3,000 at larger casinos - and 50 table games.

The seven-member board, which is to continue the hearing Wednesday, has said it would make its decision by the end of the year.

The proposed casino has divided the community between those who say it would breathe life into a deflated economy and those who consider it a shameful slap at the sacrifices of soldiers who helped determine the future of the nation.

That divide was on display at Tuesday's hearing, for which almost 400 people - from veterans and representatives of religious groups to dairy farmers - had registered to testify.

Representatives of the group No Casino Gettysburg spoke in opposition, and presented a film that included appearances by documentarian Ken Burns, actors Matthew Broderick and Sam Waterston, and historian David McCullough.

All painted a bleak picture of what a casino would do to a bucolic town that for years has been dedicated to telling the story of the Civil War. Some compared it to proposing a casino at the World Trade Center site or the Washington Monument.

No one who appeared in the film was paid to do so, said No Casino Gettysburg chair Susan Star Paddock, who pleaded with the board to reject the proposal.

"It will destroy the backbone of this community, which is a heritage community," Paddock said.

Kristin Rice, saying she was speaking on behalf of Families Against the Casino, said, "Living in Gettysburg is both a blessing and a responsibility. . . . The responsibilities are sober and compelling. And those responsibilities include honoring those who served and fell here."

Carol Miller said she spoke for Families Who Support the Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino. Those families, she said, are suffering, as people must spend hours every week traveling out of the county to be able to hold good-paying jobs. The casino would bring jobs close to home, draw in tax revenue, and ease the local tax burden on residents.

"Our Adams County families need jobs, economic relief, and most of all, tax relief," Miller said.

Not only families would benefit, said Emily Golden, saying she spoke on behalf of the Adams County Youth Collective. Young adults would also reap the benefits of an influx of jobs, she said.

"Some of the older generation has a 1950s perception of casinos," she said, shaped by movies like Martin Scorsese's Casino, which depicts the Mafia's bloody involvement in gambling. "Let's clear the smoke screen and see this for what it is: people who have an objection to gaming."

Richard Crozier, a Civil War historian and actor who portrays Robert E. Lee and who came to the hearing dressed as the Confederate Army's commanding general, countered that he did not care whether a casino was built as long as it was not in Gettysburg.

"Gettysburg has a magical quality to it," he said. "And Gettysburg is just too important to our nation to be used in such a crass manner."

"Please move on," he urged the board. "Place it somewhere, but not in historical Gettysburg."


Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.

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