Casino Group Rolls Snake Eyes in Bid for Gettysburg Site


Dec. 20, 2006 — -- Civil war enthusiasts and historians breathed easier today after the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board voted to reject a gambling license for a proposed casino that would have been located less than 2 miles from the historic battlefield.

The board's decision apparently ends a bitter two-year fight that divided residents of the small town, the site of the battle that historians call the turning point of the Civil War.

The applicant for the license, Crossroads Gaming Resort and Spa, responded to defeat in a written statement: "We fought the good fight. In the end, we are disappointed for our thousands of local supporters who looked forward to a project that would create 3,000 jobs and a year-round tourism industry."

Several local politicians and business owners wanted the casino. They argued that Gettysburg needed to diversify its economy, especially in bad-weather months when relatively few tourists come to see the battlefield.

Businessman Bill Synnamon also wanted to find a way to keep tourists in town after dark.

"You have to have the entertainment value," Synnamon said. "Gettysburg, after 9 o'clock, if you don't go have a beer, you're done. There's absolutely nothing in town for those people."

But backers of the casino apparently never anticipated the grassroots opposition to gambling. Last July the CEO of Crossroads Gaming, David LeVan, told ABC News: "I thought the positive economic benefits warranted taking it on. But I certainly regret how divisive this issue has become to the community."

After the gaming board's vote, Susan Star Paddock, a social worker who headed the citizens group that fought the casino, told ABC News she is "thrilled and very, very grateful."

Paddock and other casino opponents were in Harrisburg where the Gaming Control Board met. When the vote was announced, she said, they held up a banner saying "Thank you." Then they began the drive back to Gettysburg to hold a victory party.

The anti-casino faction in Gettysburg built support through local rallies and through the Internet.

"We got support from all over the world," Paddock said.

She said her side's victory was the result of "the power of the people, a group of ordinary people who decided we had to take a stand."

They also got important backing from activists who work to protect Civil War battlefields, such as Jim Lighthizer from the Civil War Preservation Trust.

"The idea of putting a gambling emporium next to one of America's sacred sites is ludicrous," Lighthizer said.

Historian Larry Clowers, who often appears at Civil War anniversaries in the uniform of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, said "We want people to come to Gettysburg for what is there -- their heritage, their history -- not to come and put money in a slot machine."

Now that the Gaming Control Board has voted against the casino, it appears the last big gamble at Gettysburg will continue to be the one Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee took on July 3, 1863, the final day of battle. He ordered Pickett's Charge through the center of Union defenses. He lost.

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