Gettysburg Casino Debate Continues;
Gaming Control Board Sets Hearings

By Kathryn Jorgensen

(November 2010 Civil War News)

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The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will hold hearings Nov. 16 and 17 in Harrisburg on the four applications for the state’s last Category 3 license to operate a casino at a resort hotel.

According to the board the purpose is “to hear directly from the applicants on their eligibility…, suitability to gain licensure, and why their project is better than the other applicants.”

Applicants will be questioned “about their character, operational and financial suitability, diversity plans, community impact, plans for the prevention of compulsive gaming and other issues.”

The applicants are:

Mason-Dixon Resorts LP, to be located at the Eisenhower Hotel, Conference Center and Resort in Cumberland Township, Adams County;

Woodlands Fayette LLC, to be located at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Wharton Township, Fayette County;

Penn Harris Gaming LP, to be located at the Holiday Inn Harrisburg West, Hampden Township, Cumberland County (next to Adams County); and

Bushkill Group Inc., to be located at the Fernwood Hotel and Resort, Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe County.

More information is at www.pgcb.state.pa.us. The last day for people to send their opinions to the board was Oct. 31.

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Gov. Ed Rendell made news during a call-in show on the Pennsylvania Cable Network Sept. 16 when he opposed the Gettysburg casino.

Caller Dan Siderio, a longtime opponent of casinos in Gettysburg, reminded Rendell that the governor had opposed the 2006 proposed casino because it was too close to a historic site. He asked the governor’s position on the current proposal for a casino at the Eisenhower Hotel & Conference Center on Emmitsburg Road.

Rendell replied: “Well, I’m still opposed to it. David LeVan, who is the main proponent of this, is a good friend of mine and was a big contributor to my campaign, and I love David. But I just think that it’s the wrong place for a casino.”

Rendell noted that he does not have a vote on the matter. Oct. 31 was the last day for people to give their views to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board that will issue the gaming license.

A video of Rendell’s remarks and the congratulatory letter he received from the coalition of preservation groups that oppose the casino can be viewed at the Civil War Preservation Trust site, www.civilwar.org.

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Ed Bearss led a Sept. 21 press conference at the State Capitol to announce formation of Veterans for Gettysburg, a group opposed to the casino, of which Bearss is co-chairman. They released a letter to the Gaming Control Board from veterans (posted at www.ipetitions.com/petition/veteransforgettysburg).

Bearss said, “When I answered the call to serve my country in World War II, I felt a kinship with all those soldiers who had come before me. I believe I am duty-bound to honor the legacy of their service.”

Appearing with Bearss were American Legion Executive Director Peter Gaytan and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund President Jan Scruggs. Gaytan said, “We need to be sensitive to the fact that this is a hallowed ground resting place for our brothers-in-arms and protect it from such inappropriate development.”

A month earlier when national commander Clarence E. Hill condemned the casino local Legion members were furious, their commander saying they weren’t consulted, they were neutral and Hill didn’t know what he was talking about.

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Fox News ran an admittedly unscientific poll in August when it covered the casino debate, including the American Legion commander’s statement and the preservation coalition’s economic impact report. The results of 2,690 votes was 195, or 7.25 percent, supporting the casino and 2,495 opposed.

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Two casino opponents looked at economics and infrastructure.

Keith Miller, a Connecticut member of No Casino Gettysburg, who has represented the group in debates and at a meeting with the governor, noted the long history of greed in Gettysburg, going back to the trolley line through Devil’s Den and including the National Tower to other developments.

“The proposed casino will extract more for state gambling taxes and investor profits than it leaves in low skill, low wage, high turnover jobs,” he said.  “The investors get rich, the community gets poorer, and the nation’s past is polluted.”

His analysis shows the casino would be patronized by locals and existing visitors who will redirect their spending from existing businesses, causing job loss as people redirect their spending from prior patterns, like dinner at the Lincoln Diner, to the casino buffet and slots. 

“Social costs from gambling addictions created by this local casino will be devastating for many local families and employers,” Miller warned. 

Craig Caba, a former president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, whose officers supported the casino — he voted against — sent the state board his analysis of transportation and roads relevant to the Gettysburg and Hampden Township casino proposals.

Caba noted that the Hampden Township site “has direct and modern well-developed roads and bridges, linking all directions of the compass.”

It is easily reached by the population 70 miles away and is within 20 miles of Carlisle, Harrisburg and Hershey, a large population with a diverse and stable economy served by public transportation.

The Gettysburg site is on Old Route 15, the Emmitsburg Road, which is designated a National Heritage Area along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway that runs from Gettysburg to Charlottesville, Va.

Caba noted the road is two lanes wide with historical markers on both sides. He noted safety concerns as well as costs of road and traffic improvements and possible legal challenges.

The site does not have east-west access or a beltway connecting other highways, Caba noted, and Old Route 15 runs through Gettysburg National Military Park and the town, which has severe traffic congestion. New Route 15 is intersected by 32 roads between Gettysburg and Frederick, Md., and more to Harrisburg, all creating traffic and safety concerns.

He questioned, “How can the lack of connecting highways linking populous and prosperous areas of all Central Pennsylvania be resolved for Adams County when the infrastructure does not exist and it has rural population numbers?”