Battle Lines Drawn on Gettysburg Casino Plan

ByDean Schabner

June 22, 2005 -- -- A group of developers proposing to build a casino, hotel and spa near the Gettysburg battlefield call the plan synergy that would benefit the national park, the community and the state of Pennsylvania, but a local citizens' group that opposes the plan says it is just a sin.

"This is a desecration. They're bringing in a product. They're saying we want to sell this product in your town and we're saying that product is fundamentally exploitation, and it's a product we don't want here," said Susan Star Paddock, a spokeswoman for No Casino Gettysburg, a group that formed in the town after the investors' group announced its plan on April 26.

The investors' group, Chance Enterprises, has proposed building a 200-room hotel and a casino that would initially have 3,000 slot machines on a 42-acre site less than two miles from the Gettysburg National Military Park.

In a statement announcing the plan, David LeVan, a local businessman who is the president of Chance Enterprises, said the casino "will provide added amenities for the millions of tourists who already visit our historical sites. They will have an added incentive to stay in our area longer, thereby spending more dollars."

John Brabender, a consultant to Chance Enterprises, said the casino would not have a Civil War theme and would not exploit Gettysburg's heritage.

"What we are concerned about is that these local groups don't jump to an opinion about it," he said. "We have offered to work with all the historic groups so they can be assured that whatever the facility would look like, whatever themes would be used, would not be in conflict with the character of the area."

Architects are working on a design but it has not been finalized, Brabender said. However, he said the initial plans call for a hotel, "a couple restaurants," a casino and an attached parking garage, all with a small footprint and with a low-key design.

"There will be no neon or anything like that," he said. "What it will end up looking like is a large hotel. We're talking about something very understated in relation to Las Vegas or Atlantic City."

For Paddock, it is not about the style of buildings, but about what gambling represents, and how it conflcts with the heritage of Gettysburg.

"It's an exploitation of the name Gettysburg," she said. "Every schoolkid in the country knows the Gettysburg Address. Three things happened here: our greatest president wrote and delivered his greatest speech, and the battle itself, and then this tremendous act of compassion carried out by the people here to take care of the wounded and dying from the battlefield. Virtually every house and business in the historic district was used as a hospital or morgue after the battle. A casino is fundamentally exploitation of that."

Though the casino will be more than a mile from the Gettysburg battlefields, according to Brabender, a spokeswoman for one of the national groups that has joined the community in opposition to the plan said that distance doesn't matter.

"It's the perception of what Gettysburg stands for that we're concerned with," said Dru Anne Neil, a spokeswoman for Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, which has 25,000 members across the country. "If you're in Washington, all you're thinking about is it's Gettysburg, you're not thinking about is it a mile or a mile and a half away. It's the perception of what Gettysburg stands for, and we're committed to honoring that."

The Civil War Preservation Trust has also condemned the idea of having slot machines so near a battlefield where the course of the Civil War was decided.

"Gettysburg is America's most sacred shrine to our nation's Civil War dead," said CWPT President James Lighthizer in a statement released by the group. "It was here that Lincoln first talked about a 'new birth of freedom' during ceremonies honoring those who fell in that tragic battle. Gettysburg is such an inappropriate location for a casino it is hard to believe that the proposal is receiving serious consideration. Casinos can be built anywhere; land where thousands of Americans 'gave the last full measure of devotion' cannot be moved."

Though the plan was announced this spring, it is not even clear that Pennsylvania will allow casinos like the one proposed. The law that would allow five stand-alone casinos -- casinos not attached to race tracks -- in the state, Act 71, is in limbo, awaiting a ruling from the state Supreme Court on a challenge argued before the court this spring.

If the court upholds Act 71, developers would be allowed to put proposals before a state gaming board, which weigh them and approve or deny them. Two of the stand-alone casinos would have to be located in Philadelphia and another would be in Pittsburgh, leaving just two slots for the rest of the state, and developers in the Poconos and in the Bethlehem-Allentown area are also reportedly putting together proposals.

It is not expected that any casino licenses would be issued by the state until the end of the year at the earliest, and Brabender said it could be much longer.

"We're talking about a very long process," he said.

If the project is approved, though, he said the financial benefit to the Gettysburg region would be great -- $10 million in direct tax revenue per year, in addition to the benefit of new jobs. That money could go into more preservation efforts to enhance the historic character of the park and the town, he said.

The developers have also said that the casino could draw people to the area who would not necessarily have come just for the area's historic interest, an idea that seemed to appeal to at least one local preservation group.

"If it brings in 'x' amount of people from the Baltimore-Washington-area for gambling, they may get a little bit of history and culture, too," Kathi Schue, president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, told The Evening Sun of Hanover, Pa. "What does Atlantic City have, other than a beach? Gettysburg has so much to offer people. If we can educate more people, that's a good thing."

Paddock, however, said that surveys her group has done of visitors to Gettysburg since the casino plan was announced this spring have found tourists to be overwhelmingly opposed to the idea, and some said they would not return if a casino were built.

LeVan has been very active in local charity and has been supportive of the community's preservation efforts as well as donating to Gettysburg College, Paddock said.

"I have respected what they were doing, but what we are saying is everybody has a bad idea once in their life, and this is a bad idea," she said.

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