- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Residents of Gettysburg, Pa., are fighting what they call gambling with history — plans to establish a casinonear the nation’s best-known Civil War battlefield.

Chance Enterprises, a coalition of investors headed by former Conrail Chairman David LeVan, has announced plans to construct the Gettysburg Gaming Resort and Spa. The resort would house a hotel and restaurants — and 2,500 slot machines.

The casino would be built at the junction of two U.S. highways, less than two miles northwest of the National Park Service site where the decisive battle took place in 1863. Investors hope eventually to install as many as 5,000 slot machines and possibly a nightclub at the site, which is currently a driving range.

Residents and Civil War historians expressed alarm and indignation.

“Gettysburg is a national treasure, a sacred place,” said Susan Star Paddock, head of No Casino Gettysburg, a grass-roots effort to block the project. “A casino doesn’t belong here.”

Investors promise the resort would be tasteful and would not capitalize on the historical environment. “It’s not this neon-type thing you would expect to see in Atlantic City or Las Vegas,” said John Brabender, a spokesman for Chance Enterprises. “[Investors] don’t want to do anything to tarnish the historic atmosphere. It’s nowhere near Gettysburg itself.”

“That’s just nonsense,” said Mrs. Paddock. She pointed out that almost everyone who visits the historic battlefield drives past the proposed casino site. She called the intersection of U.S. highways 15 and 30 “the primary gateway into Gettysburg.”

Larry Clowers, a historian who portrays General Ulysses S. Grant, recently moved to Gettysburg. When he and his wife learned of the casino proposal, “We were shocked,” he said. “This is probably the most bloody ground in American history. It’s just absurd to put [a casino] that close to a place that is like holy ground,” he said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, and Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, have expressed personal disapproval for the project.

The casino proposal followed the passage of a Pennsylvania law known as Act 71. The law stipulated that casino licenses would be granted to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and two other Pennsylvania locations. Mr. LeVan’s group of investors plans to apply to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for one of the remaining licenses. The board will begin accepting applications Nov. 1, 2005.

Investors estimate the resort will yield $10 million a year in local tax revenue. They committed to pumping some casino profits back into preserving and promoting local historical sites.

But opponents complain that revenue would be spread among three contiguous counties, and Gettysburg itself would only receive a fraction of the money.

Mr. Brabender said because the resort is a slots-only facility, with no table games like blackjack, it will not draw the stereotypical casino crowd. “You’re not getting those high rollers, spending lots of money,” he said. “It skews much older.” He said people would come to the resort on bus tours, spend $40 or $50, and go home at the end of the day.

There is always initial resistance when a casino comes to town, Mr. Brabender said. “But the most thoughtful people who studied this issue in Gettysburg realize that gaming is coming to Pennsylvania. And it would be unfortunate if Gettysburg couldn’t share in that revenue.”

The casino’s opponents aren’t convinced. “It will add nothing to the town other than traffic and congestion,” said Mr. Clowers.

And he is worried about more than just logjams. “It’s a completely bad idea … do you think people would be happy if, next to Arlington Cemetery, they opened up a chain of casinos? ‘Visit Kennedy’s grave — and play the slots.’”

A spokesman for the Gaming Control Board said the board evaluates a number of factors when granting licenses — including community input.

Mrs. Paddock and her coalition are more than willing to offer input.

“A casino would destroy the historic atmosphere,” she said. “It might belong somewhere, but it doesn’t fit here. It just doesn’t fit.”

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