Roll of the Dice

Gettysburg, Pa., Debates a Casino Near the Battleground

Gettysburg
Gettysburg, Pa.

Credit: Harry Waters

Gettysburg, Pa., the site of the bloodiest battle in the American Civil War, is once again embroiled in controversy.

At issue is a new casino proposed for a location just half a mile from the site where Union troops pushed back Confederate forces and turned the tide of war. In 2005, preservationists and residents led a grassroots effort to defeat a similar casino proposal. Now, the same developer, Gettysburg businessman David LeVan, wants to build a casino inside the Eisenhower Resort and Convention Center on the famed Emmitsburg Road.

Historic preservationists believe the casino will threaten the sacred quality of the battlefield, and adversely affect a thriving local heritage tourism industry.

"It is offensive to put slot machines and table games less than 3,000 feet from hallowed ground," says Susan Star Paddock, a Gettysburg resident leading the fight to defeat the casino, the second proposal in four years. "It would change the cultural context of Gettysburg. There is only one Gettysburg. We don't want to change the identity of Gettysburg from a national treasure to just another casino town."

However, Adams County, of which Gettysburg is the county seat, has seen its unemployment rate rise to eight percent. Casino supporters say the Mason Dixon Resort and Casino will bring more jobs and tourists to the region.

"Adams County can no longer depend on its Civil War tourism legacy alone," says David La Torre, a spokesman for the casino developer. (LeVan declined to comment.) "Unemployment here is over eight percent, the highest in a quarter-century. Gaming has created 12,000 full-time jobs across Pennsylvania."

Jeff Kline, spokesman for Pro Casino Adams County, told the Patriot-News that Adams County needs more tourism venues.

"Folks here are in desperate need to see some change. People need jobs," he told the newspaper.

For opponents of the casino, the issue is not gambling, but location.

More than 8,000 soldiers died in three days of intense fighting, resulting in 51,000 casualties in what's now a quiet college town. Most of the battlefield is now owned by the National Park Service. The site of the proposed casino is located off federal lands, and the park service has taken no position on the development.

Adams County residents who oppose the casino have been joined by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Civil War Preservation Trust, the National Parks Conservation Association, and Preservation Pennsylvania to call on LeVan to drop his second casino bid.

"It is a nationally important Civil War site that was preserved in memory of one of the nation's bloodiest battles," says Walter Gallas, director of the Northeast Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The developer saying that he wants to piggyback on that and put in a casino is an inappropriate response."

Casino opponents recognize they are facing a tougher fight this time around, due to the economy, says Jim Campi, spokesman for the Civil War Preservation Trust. LeVan is grossly exaggerating the number of jobs the casino will create, he says.

"Last time, we defeated the casino when the economy was humming along," he says. "Now they are making these unsubstantiated claims about job creation."

Preservationists believe the presence of a casino in Gettysburg will hurt the region's overall economy and detract from the heritage tourism that is the lifeblood of the community.

"We have volunteers who have done research and are discovering that this will cause economic destruction to the heritage tourism, and that more jobs will be lost than gained," Paddock says.

The more than a million visitors who tour the battlefield spend money in other Gettysburg shops and restaurants, something that can't be said for casino visitors, Gallas says. Claims made by casino supporters that suggest gaming will pump money into the local community are dubious at best, he said.

"A better economic plan is to do everything we can to support the small, locally-owned, business," he says. "A casino is going to pull money out of the community."

Gettysburg, like many historic sites and battlefields, suffers from a lack of a protective buffer around the park lands, Campi says. That means it's up to local officials to consider the long-term impacts a casino will have on the historic battlefield.

Casino spokesman La Torre says that opponents raised little opposition to other developments near the battlefield. In the past five years, he points out, a new hotel rose and plans for high-density housing development were approved within close proximity of the park, but those projects did not draw the ire of preservationists.

"It continues to surprise many people in Adams County at how preservationists are attacking a project that will create jobs and pour money into the economy that is in a location that is not on one single inch of the 6,000-acre Gettysburg Park," he says.

Gettysburg is competing against three other locations for a single casino license, and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will decide who gets the license. The board will hold several public hearings prior to making its decision, perhaps as soon as this year.

Paddock and other advocates hope to show that most Adams County residents do not support the casino. There is too much at stake to give up the fight for Gettysburg, she says.

"It's a major insult to this nation," Paddock says. "A casino would never be considered this close to Ground Zero, or the Arlington National Cemetery."

Read the petition opposing a casino at Gettysburg

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Comments

Submitted by SandsofSlime at: July 23, 2010
Go Gettysburg Go ! These money pits never helped a single person gain - and how dare the Park Service stay quiet ! Well, in Valley Forge they did the same thing, and with a sneer or two to boot ! We've appealed that decision. Think of those soldiers and their women, fighting with beggar's budgets for freedom - if they could witness these carpetbaggers sleazing around their burial grounds . . . ! When the press and the "experts" say the people of Adams County resent casino opposition - they're lying ! Just ask the next 10 people you're standing in line next to. Harrisburg and Washington have nearly abandoned us and we're supposed to let gambling operators come in to steal whatever's left ! SAY NO, Pennsylvania - Save Our State ! Jim Schneller Eastern Pennsylvania Citizens Against Gambling www.casinoFreeUS.com

Submitted by mamagirl at: July 21, 2010
No!! Vicksburg has casinos and they have not improved the economy. I believe the argument of "job creation" is spurious.

Submitted by JerseyYankee at: July 20, 2010
Open a casino; wave a magic wand. Someone mentioned that Nevada's economy suffers disproportionately to the majority of the country. I would add that Atlantic City's economic disparity and social ills are the direct result of the casinos there. I would hope Americans are still resourceful enough to build a prosperous community with original ideas and hard work. Unceremoniously dropping in a casino to solve a short-term problem suggests a kind of laziness- the beginning of the end.

Submitted by Burgwyn at: July 19, 2010
One of our most respected relatives died at Gettysburg leading a charge on the first day. We have a great respect for the Gettysburg battlefield and shutter to think that a casino would have any positive effect.

Submitted by From the middle at: July 19, 2010
Gettysburg just experienced "biker weekend". Many thousands of decked out, aging baby boomers on loud motorcylces decended on the Battlefield and Gettysburg. They spend lots of money so only some in town residents object even though the noise can be overwhelming. The preservation community does not object. Local people avoid the area to the extent they can. The problem with this cash cow is that the bikers are aging rapidly. Five years from now this source of income will begin to dry up. With this years property tax re-assessment and the loss of more than a thousand manufacturing jobs in the area, local people are really concerned about jobs and taxes. Anti growth groups have never offered a realistic proposals to create jobs and tax base in the Gettysburg Area. Enhancement of cultural heritage tourism is a good thing, but it will never create the kinds of jobs and income streams that are desparately needed in the community. Tens of thousands of people leave the county every day to work in distant towns and cities, Some drive as far as Washington DC. Young people leave the area in droves for jobs elsewhere as retirees, who will need to supplement their incomes to sustain themselves, move in as replacements. Not a good picture for future sustainability.

Submitted by None at: July 19, 2010
First off and most important, the Gettysburg National Military Park has stated: “It isn’t in the park’s boundary,” (Bob) Kirby (GNMP Supervisor) said regarding the Eisenhower Hotel and recreation complex, located along Business 15, near Maryland. “It doesn’t affect us, because it (the hotel) isn’t within the boundary,” continued Kirby. “It has no direct impact on the park’s resources.” No impact - so why is this an issue for preservationists? The bottom line is that the park is Federally protected and is one of the few military parks in the nation that has grown in size in the last 20 years. One inch outside of that boundary though is privately owned property and that belongs to us, the local tax payers. The casino site is not located "3,000 ft from the park", she is confused with a casino that will be built in Valley Forge, PA. That casino is located directly across the street from the Military Park there and that distance is 3,000 feet. There are over 150 businesses that support this project and it has the backing of the Chamber of Commerce. It also has the full support of our local elected officials. Most of the businesses that support this project are small, locally owned companies. Yet Mrs. Paddock states that these will all be lost? That's not what were seeing here though. Finally, Mrs. Paddock is completely wrong and is again misleading those reading this about how local, tax paying residents feel about this. There have been two polls conducted locally and both strongly show that the residents of Adams County, PA are in support of Mason Dixon Casino. In fact, a poll that was conducted on Mrs. Paddock's own website showed support for the casino for over 3 straight weeks when it first came out. She didn't like the results and changed it to her position. Adams County is in trouble. We need economic growth and a casino is just one step to help us rebuild our failing attractions and businesses. It will not only create new jobs at the casino, but will also create other spin off jobs at other local businesses. Compared to the salaries of local residents, this is one of the highest taxed counties both in school and property taxes. Our unemployment rate is the highest it's been in over 25 years. With visitation numbers down for the past nine years straight, there won't be much left to visit in the future. Don't be fooled by this small minority and their well off leader. They may have the money to enjoy their lively hoods, but for those that work at the grocery store or dinner that serve them can not. There are two sides to a story, so before you take a stand, find out what is really going on. Check us out at: www.pcac2010.org and on Facebook PCAC - "Providing a Future, While Preserving the Past" We are the only local organization that has raised money and awareness to preserved Civil War Heritage in the Gettysburg area. Mrs. Paddock's group has done nothing.

Submitted by HTangent at: July 17, 2010
The affects of the casinos will be to create unstable short term jobs what will be dependent on the whims of gamers. The increased income that the casino would produce would come at the cost of small business owners who would no longer share as much of the tourist income as the heritage traveler brings into Gettysburg, forcing many out of business. And once we destroy this sacred land, it can never be recovered. This land was consecrated by the lives of those on both sides who gave their lives to decide the future of this country. If for no other reason, honoring their sacrifice deserves preservation of their battlefield.

Submitted by tina380 at: July 17, 2010
You are wrong that a casino wouldn't be considered at Ground Zero in NYC - it's even worse than a casino, there is a proposal to build a MOSQUE there! In this economy, who has the funds to gamble? The highest unemployment rate in the nation is in Nevada, and who has more casinos than Las Vegas? So obviously, casinos do not guarantee jobs. But developers need to develope something to make money. I hope that those making the decisions where to place the casino will realize that there is only ONE Gettysburg and once lost and dishonored, it cannot be fixed. Part of the Vicksburg battlefield (MS) was removed from the park and handed over to the city. Marble monuments now stand next to schools and shops. It is not right, and I felt a deep sadness that Americans are so quick to dismiss their own heritage.

Submitted by JerseyYankee at: July 16, 2010
Economic cycles fluctuate; sacred history is eternal. We'll get through this without having to (further) compromise Gettysburg Battlefield. I'm surprised by some of the cynical and faux rationalist comments being made here, as if one wrong or several wrongs justify making a colossal error.

Submitted by Julianna at: July 16, 2010
LeVan may just be a crass businessman but this horror is really backed by Gov Rendell, who has heavily pushed gambling in Pennsylvania and stacked the Gaming Board with his cronies, to pay back political favors with gaming licenses and proceeds from gambling. And all those jobs they promise will be created? Developers always say that, but it's the big lie. Those jobs go to people who come from outside the communities where the casinos are who are already qualified to work them, not to the locals. The public needs to know this and not be complacent.

Submitted by jim at: July 15, 2010
Isn't there enough idiots in D>C. that are screwing up the history of the country without having PA joining in?

Submitted by Rob at: July 15, 2010
This is unAmerican and the product of a diseased mind. Gettysburg became a final resting place for men defending their idea of liberty. How did they and we lose ours to corporate developers and crooked political opportunists? What are we going to do about it? I say fight it to our last breath.

Submitted by FreeAmerica at: July 15, 2010
The casinos in Western PA have not come close to all of the claimed economic benefits. In fact, the new one in Pittsburgh can barely make ends meet.

Submitted by Roger Cumming at: July 15, 2010
Casino gambling is a fundamentally unproductive industry without tangible benefits for the communities in which it is located. The few jobs in bar tending and card-dealing are hardly worth the environmental degradation that the Park will suffer if the casino is permitted. The local and state authorities must stand up and reject this very inappropriate development

Submitted by Preserve the Past at: July 15, 2010
Residents of Wayne County Michigan were promised that casinos in Detroit would bring jobs to our region. Our unemployment rate has risen to over 13% since the three casinos opened in 1999.

Submitted by Clubrat at: July 15, 2010
The Ft. Myer NCO Club is 388' across a parking lot (thus blatantly visible) from the nearest gravesite within Arlington National Cemetery. Horrors!

Submitted by HstryLvr at: July 15, 2010
Please preserve this area for future generations. I received an email and photos from what I thought was a jaded student who spoke about the beauty of Gettysburg. He was moved by what he saw! A casino would not complement his area. The developer needs to find another place for his casino.

Submitted by Iron Brigade at: July 15, 2010
Michigan has the highest unemployment in the nation. We also have been seduced by the lure of gambling as a panacea to our problems. We have been rewarded with higher crime rates featuring such plesantries as prostitution, drug use, and increased gang activity. There are no high paying jobs involved, just more money for the rich investors. And to think of doing this on the most sacred ground in America? Shame on us if we allow it!

Submitted by Jeff at: July 15, 2010
I think this is an extreme reaction to the proposal. I believe the opponents are mostly anti-gambling. This location is not in any conflict with the battlefields. I have been down Emmitsburg Rd. many times. It is lined with a lot of commercial buildings along that stretch, including a Fireworks store, motorcycle shop, helicopter pad, Teddy Bear Mfgr., etc. The Casino would enhance the area as a tourist draw, and the location is not in any way a desecration of the hallowed ground. If that is a concern, they ought to condemn about half the property along Baltimore St.

Submitted by JB at: July 15, 2010
At what point in our own history will we recognize that some NATURAL resources are more important than economic ones. Hasn't the BP Oil disaster taught us anything, for a finite level of econmic boon, we have destroyed countless resources for our future generations to enjoy. Gettysburg should be at this point declared a National Park to ensure that its history and geography , which playes so vital a role in the battle that helped to shape our country's philosophy as a nation. Sacrificing this intristic natural and historical resource for a few percentage points of employment figures is unforgivable.

Submitted by Disgusted at: July 15, 2010
There are places all over PA that could use the casinos for jobs, even other places in Adams county if they are that hard up for employment. WHY Gettysburg? This ground is special to the state and the country. Men fought and died there so we have the right to build gambling casinos but does that mean the right to build so near to hallowed ground? Gettysburg is unique in the entire country. So much of the original battlefiled has been preserved for future generations to learn from our past. Once a town becomes a gambling town, the feel changes and theheritage of the area changes. We need to continue to preserve the area so that the feeling of the town AN EDUCATIONAL SITE to remind us of where we came from and not to make the smae mistakes as we did in our past. Fight the casino.

Submitted by Jenna at: July 15, 2010
It is unfortunate that the developer is touting the number of jobs a casino will create and turning a blind eye to the problems a casino creates. While I fundamentally believe a casino so close to the battlefield is less than optimal, if it does not visually impact the battlefield and is completely inside an existing resort it may be passable. HOWEVER, what are the side effects of increased traffic, pollution and crime going to have on the historic site? Additionally, who is the most likely to visit the casino, tourists or locals? A casino provides simply another avenue for sucking the money out of people's pockets, making the developer more rich and leaving the local community still disadvantaged.

Submitted by IntheNet at: July 15, 2010
While I am sympathetic to the historical preservationists, the Gettysburg Battlefield park, and the Civil War Preservation Trust, I cannot see the harm here from the plans for a casino inside the Eisenhower Resort. The Civil War preservationists should spend their precious funding fighting housing and hotels that do encroach on the battlefield. This casino, within the existing Eisenhower Resort, seems a poor issue to oppose. How about these Civil War preservationists addressing the fast food restaurants on the Pickett's Charge battlefield proper, or the cheap vendor stores in Gettysburg itself? Or take the political opposition money to this casino and use it to buy smaller Civil War battlefield land elsewhere; Franklin, TN comes to mind! I just don't understand the objection to a casino that is within an existing resort that is not on the battlefield? Just a mile away is a huge retail outlet establishment that nobody objected to in Gettysburg!!!

Submitted by visitor at: July 15, 2010
If they build a casino, I will not return to Gettysburg. I have been there five times over the years.

Submitted by Tim Ferris at: July 15, 2010
If you don't have the civic resolve and the moral backbone to reject gambling entirely, you can't quibble with where the industry chooses to locate within your state.