Gettysburg Casino Project is Back;
Emmitsburg Road Site Under Option
By Kathryn Jorgensen
(January 2010 Civil War News)
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — The Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center on the Emmitsburg Road, Business 15 North, could become a slots casino. The property includes the hotel, residential units and sports complex.
The site is five miles from the center of Gettysburg, but less than a mile from the Gettysburg National Military Park boundary.
The potential of a casino in Gettysburg, where one was not licensed in 2006 after a heated anti-casino campaign, came to light with a Nov. 24 report from The Patriot-News in Harrisburg that an unidentified investment group was interested in a Category III resort casino license in Gettysburg.
Supporters and opponents have dusted off their 2006 playbooks and are trying to influence the outcome, but much of it depends on state lawmakers.
It didn’t take long after the story broke for area newspapers to report that Battlefield Harley-Davidson owner David LeVan, who lost the first casino battle, had a one-year option on the 100-acre Eisenhower property, which is owned by the estate of a Chambersburg businessman.
He at first would not comment on whether he was involved and later was quoted as saying he hadn’t intended to speak about the matter for a couple of months.
His project is called Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino. LeVan’s investment partner is Joseph Lashinger, a former state representative who works in the gaming industry.
LeVan’s success depends on the state legislature. Legislators are considering a range of issues related to gambling and its revenues. One is if the number of state resort casino licenses will be increased from two to five, to accommodate all interested parties, including the Gettysburg group.
A major issue is if the state will legalize table games (dice, roulette, blackjack) for resorts. Right now such games are restricted to racetrack/casinos and five stand-alone casinos.
According to a Dec. 1 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story by Tom Barnes lawmakers are also are tied up on such issues as whether to raise the resorts limit of 500 slot machines, to allow public (as opposed to resort guests) use of them, what the one-time license fee of several million dollars should be, the state tax rate and whether host counties and towns should share some tax revenue.
The state is counting on $200 million in table games proceeds for budget commitments, but Barnes pointed out it takes six to nine months for a table games casino operation to get under way.
The Gettysburg Times reported another debate between legislators is whether the tax revenues should be given to schools or used for property relief.
There’s another problem for LeVan’s project — the deadline for resort applications was in July. The Gaming Control Board would have to agree to reopen the application process in order for the Gettysburg proposal and one in Reading to be considered.
LeVan’s spokesman said the Gettysburg resort, if licensed, would target the Baltimore and Washington area and would go ahead as a slots casino, even if tables games were not approved for resorts.
The pressure on legislators was apparent in a Dec. 18 Associated Press story by Marc Levy that began: “Penn State and several other Pennsylvania universities will get their state subsidies that are nearly six months overdue, but hundreds of state government employees could lose their jobs if a casino-expansion measure continues to flounder in the Legislature.”
That was Gov. Ed Rendell’s threat if the legislature doesn’t approve the bill to legalize casino table games by Jan. 8 and also divert another $50 million from slot machine tax revenues.
Levy’s story said House Democrats wanted to add one more casino license and Republicans want to keep the number at 14. Also, there were differences on how to share the 2 percent gambling revenue tax earmarked for area communities.
Tommy Gilbert and Jeff Klein of Gettysburg reactivated Pro Casino Adams County, saying the economy has changed since 2006 and local jobs are important. Klein pointed out to the Gettysburg Times that if battlefield preservation were the issue, there should have been objection to the new motel built next to Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
The No Casino Gettysburg grassroots movement headed by Susan Star Paddock also was reactivated. She summarized her objections in a Dec. 9 op ed piece in the Hanover Evening Sun.
Paddock noted the Eisenhower Center location is even closer to the battlefield than the 2006 casino location on Route 30 was, just three minutes from the line of Pickett’s Charge.
She wrote that casino jobs could cost jobs elsewhere because a casino would hurt exiting businesses, a casino could keep heritage tourists from visiting and most of the players will be local, which could lead to social costs if addictions develop.
Paddock said some state casinos have laid off workers and the mayors of Allentown and Pittsburgh said they were disappointed with their slots revenues.
From November 2006 through February 2009, during which time seven slots gaming facilities opened, more than $3.6 billion was wagered at all state gaming facilities, according to an April 2009 report assessing how slots gaming affected the state lottery.
The report, which can be read online, said Pennsylvania slots wagering in 2008 amounted to more than $20 billion. In most cases the slots sites were generating more revenue than they had for the same month the year before. “This continued growth … runs counter to a definite downturn that is occurring in the gaming industry nationally,” noted the report.
Despite the increase in slots wagering and the economy, the Pennsylvania Lottery had another records sales year of $3.09 billion in fiscal year 2007-08.