Month:

August, 2010

31 Aug 2010, by

Video to watch

This video was played at the hearing before the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission today. No one who was involved in its production was paid. It’s 9:13 long, but those are nine magnificent minutes, and I commend this video to you: Our Gettysburg Legacy

I was asked to testify at the hearing. If I had been able to put together a panel, I would have rushed to do so. In spite of our differences in interpretation, Andrea Custer is as dedicated to the South Cavalry Field as I am, and she is also opposed to the project. Unfortunately, she had a professional obligation out of town. J. D. Petruzzi was scheduled to have hand surgery today. I couldn’t put together a panel, which would have given us 30 minutes to present our opposition due to scheduling conflicts, I would have been limited to three minutes of testimony. I could not justify twelve hours of driving for three minutes of testimony, so I didn’t go. I couldn’t possibly have added anything to this video. It says all that there is to say.

Please continue to do what you can to help fight this abomination. And thank you for your support.

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With thanks to regular reader Barry Dussel for bringing this horrifying news to my attention….

Once upon a time, the Gettysburg Battlefield Protection Association really stood for battlefield preservation. It fought long and hard against the loss of the railroad cut on the first day’s battlefield–I even offered my professional services to help in that fight as a young lawyer–and it saved the Daniel Lady Farm, which although little fighting took place there, was an important spot linking the Benner’s Hill area to the Culp’s Hill sector of the battlefield. The organization did great work then.

That, however, was then. This is now. And now, the GBPA has sold its soul to the devil by coming out in favor of the casino proposal. Here’s the horrifying press release:

Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association Endorses Mason-Dixon Resort Project

Gettysburg – The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association (GBPA) today announced its support of the proposed Mason-Dixon Resort project.

The GBPA is the oldest Civil War preservation group in the nation. Since its inception 50 years ago, the land the GBPA has secured over the years now constitutes one-third of the present day Gettysburg National Military Park, a park visited by nearly two million visitors a year.

Brendan Synnamon, GBPA president, said the group’s board of directors initially determined to take no position on the project last January but, after months of learning project details, voted to support it.

“The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association would not support a commercial project that would use or impinge upon the battlefield. This has been a longstanding Association policy and this has not changed,” Synnamon said.

“In this case, the Eisenhower Conference Center, located well south of the Battlefield and which would be converted into the Mason-Dixon Resort, already exists as a commercial facility and the resort would not go beyond its already existing boundaries. This is a far different circumstance than taking open, undeveloped space near the battlefield and building all new structures. The existing Eisenhower Conference Center has never interfered with nor detracted from the Gettysburg Battlefield and its reuse as the Mason-Dixon Resort likewise will not interfere nor detract from the Gettysburg Battlefield,” Synnamon stated.

“Our primary mission and focus are on preservation,” asserted Synnamon. “We find, after very thorough review, that the proposed Mason-Dixon Resort project does not represent a preservation issue. The property site under discussion played no significant role in the three-day engagement.”

“The Board of Directors of the GBPA regard the proposed project as a local issue. The board is aware that the economy of the Gettysburg area and Adams County is hurting. We need jobs. We need more private investment. We could use additional visitation. The Mason-Dixon Resort offers all these things and would do so without one square inch of battlefield or nearby undeveloped open space being developed,” Synnamon said.

He added: “A stronger local economy is helpful to the cause of preservation. Preservation does not exist in a vacuum. Our local preservation work cannot thrive absent a local economy that helps induce and support it.”

“What is more, the proposed project is not on the scale and scope of what exists at large casinos. The Mason-Dixon Resort would have no more than 600 slot machines and 50 table games, which is considerably smaller than attractions at the large casinos.”

Synnamon said “It is the GBPA board’s belief that the Resort will draw more people to visit the Gettysburg area and encourage them to stay longer because there will be more to see and do here, not only with the resort but with the non-gaming components of the resort and the surrounding region from Biglerville south to the Mason-Dixon Line, and from Cashtown east to Wrightsville.

“In addition to the direct positive impact on jobs, the added visitors and visitor hours the resort will encourage will also bring in new tax and other revenues to the local communities and county.”

On the question of whether the proposed project would affect heritage tourism, the GBPA Board strongly believes the Gettysburg Battlefield has a unique position among all Civil War-related sites. It is considered the place where the tide of the war changed. It is considered the most significant battle of the War, and led to President Lincoln’s defining the Union cause in honoring the dead at Gettysburg.

“Our heritage-based tourism exists because of this and this does not change,” added Synnamon. “The battlefield, this hallowed ground, will always be here, and so should economically sound communities around it .” Synnamon stated.

This statement from casino opponents sums it all up: “This is the second time that the GBPA’s stance contrasts with the stance of every national and statewide battlefield preservation organization,” said No Casino head Susan Star Paddock. “Their statement contrasts with world-renown historians and they are the smallest preservation group by far.”

She quite correctly added, “I don’t understand what the GBPA is hoping to accomplish by courting favors for casino investors.” Precisely. It’s called selling one’s soul to the Devil.

Let’s examine the hypocrisy of that, shall we?

The Lady Farm, which saw little fighting, and is more than a mile from Culp’s Hill is worthy of saving, but actual battlefield land half a mile south of the park boundary isn’t? Say what?

I can’t help but wonder whose palm got greased here, what unholy deal was cut by the board of the GBPA to sell its soul to the devil.

I can tell you this, though: I will NEVER support the organization again, and bringing it down is now one of my prime motivations. What’s more, I vigorously encourage every one of my readers to let these Judases know precisely what you think of their sell-out. Withdraw your support. Turn off the funding spigot, and instead send those funds to a REAL battlefield preservation organization, the CWPT.

LET THESE SELL-OUTS KNOW THAT THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE AND THAT YOU WILL NOT SUPPORT THEIR SELLING THEIR SOULS TO THE DEVIL. MAKE YOUR THOUGHTS KNOWN. WITHDRAW YOUR SUPPORT, AND TURN OFF THE FUNDING SPIGOT. LET THE GBPA KNOW THAT IT HAS DEFAULTED UPON ITS PROMISE TO PRESERVE AND PROTECT THE BATTLEFIELD AT GETTYSBURG AND THAT YOU WILL NOT STAND FOR IT!!!!

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I’ve got a couple of events coming up in the next few weeks, and I thought I would post some details in case anyone is interested in checking them out.

Next Wednesday, August 18, I will be speaking to the Civil War Forum of Metropolitan New York, which meets at the Roger Smith Hotel, located at Lexington Avenue and 47th Street. The cost is $35.00 for members and $45.00 for guests. An RSVP is required. Details may be found on the Forum’s web site. I will speaking on Jeb Stuart’s controversial ride to Gettysburg.

On Tuesday, September 14, I will be giving the same talk to the First Defenders Civil War Roundtable, which is located in my hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. The meeting will be held at Golden Oaks Golf Club in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. The meeting begins at 6:30, and reservations are required.

I hope to see some of you there.

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With my deep gratitude to regular reader Christ Liebegott, who brought this to my attention in a comment to yesterday’s post, I give you some more compelling arguments as to why a Gettysburg casino is a really bad idea….

From the August 7 edition of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper:

Rivers Casino short of revenue projections

By Rick Stouffer
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, August 7, 2010

One year after its grand opening, Rivers Casino is performing woefully short of its own revenue projections and estimates by the state Gaming Control Board, and industry watchers and rating agencies are concerned.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, which follows the casino’s fortunes for investors in the parent company’s debt, downgraded the North Shore casino’s debt ratings three times in the past year.

“They spent about $800 million on the property, one of the most expensive in the state, but the most recent figures show its revenues are fifth or sixth (out of nine) casinos in the state,” said Michael Listner, an S&P analyst who follows Rivers Casino’s parent, Holdings Gaming Borrower LP. “It’s pretty mediocre results.”

Elected officials say they are pleased with the performance of Pennsylvania’s casino industry as a whole after nearly four years of legal slots and billions of dollars in tax revenue. But analysts don’t like what they see in Pittsburgh.

“As of Aug. 1, the Rivers’ revenue since opening was about $217 million,” said Frank Gamrat, a senior research associate with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Castle Shannon. “The owners projected $427 million in revenue in its first year, and the Gaming Board projected $362 million. The casino’s not living up to its hype.”

All casinos take time to ramp up operations, to determine things like the proper mix of employees and the total number of workers needed, experts said.

“It’s not uncommon for properties to take up to a year to reach operational efficiencies in their operations,” said Grant Govertsen, a partner and analyst with investment bank Union Gaming Group in Las Vegas.

Casino leaders say the newness of being able to locally and legally play a pick of more than 2,800 slot machines and, for the past month, table games hasn’t worn off at Rivers after a year.

“We’re very pleased with the business we’ve done,” said Todd Moyer, Rivers’ general manager.

Some industry watchers say the idea of being able to gamble legally in Pennsylvania remains fresh at all nine casinos in operation.

“The only domestic gaming market that hasn’t suffered considerably from the adverse effects of credit markets drying up and the recession was Pennsylvania,” said Eugene Christiansen, CEO of Christiansen Capital Advisors LLC of New York. “Because the state actually was late to legalize slots, you had all the people who were used to going to West Virginia or New York staying home to go to the bright, shiny, new facilities.”

Like his Rivers’ counterpart, Sean Sullivan, general manager of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, is happy with his facility’s performance.

“We’re very pleased with the wagers,” Sullivan said from the North Strabane location, which opened a temporary casino in June 2007 and its permanent facility in April 2009. In 2008, The Meadows was projected to gross $118 million. It grossed more than $231 million.

“We’re doing extremely well during the midweek,” Sullivan said. “We need more parking.”

Data from the state Gaming Control Board shows that since Pennsylvania’s first casino opened in November 2006, gamblers wagered more than $76.9 billion, and the facilities paid out $70.2 billion.

Last year, the nine operating casinos sent to Harrisburg nearly $1.1 billion in taxes — nearly a quarter-billion dollars more than Nevada’s 260 casinos sent to Carson City. However, Pennsylvania’s casinos pay a 55 percent tax, and Nevada levies an 8 percent tax.

“We are very pleased with how all the casinos are performing,” said gaming board Chairman Greg Fajt. “Since November 2006, when the first casino opened in the state, $3.8 billion in tax revenue has been generated, which has meant $2.1 billion in property tax relief, about $190 per year for each property owner.”

Fajt further broke down the money collected from Pennsylvania’s 55 percent tax, including $335 million to the communities where the casinos are located, $687 million to the state’s horse racing industry, which he said was “flat on its back” prior to the influx of gaming levies, $290 million to economic development and tourism, and $125 million to fire departments statewide.

“The casinos have surpassed my expectations tenfold,” Gov. Ed Rendell said Friday during a visit to Pittsburgh. “When you consider that Pennsylvania’s tax revenues from gaming last year surpassed those of Nevada, that 125,000 seniors have had their property taxes eliminated, that another 235,000 had their property taxes cut by 50 percent, that the Penguins aren’t playing in Kansas City because of gaming funds, I’m ecstatic about gaming.”

Rivers pays $7.5 million annually to help pay off the $321 million Consol Energy Center. The agreement to build the replacement for Mellon Arena in the Hill District helped keep the hockey team in Pittsburgh.

Fajt said the No. 1 issue with all of the casinos was job creation.

“The casinos have created more than 12,700 jobs directly tied to the gaming industry, both slots and table games,” the gaming board chief said. The average annual wage of the created positions is between $35,000 and $45,000, he added.

“The Rivers is a world-class facility — a great addition to the waterfront,” said Megan Dardanell, spokeswoman for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. “It’s contributed property taxes on that site, and the casino has been a wonderful community partner, contributing to the funding of the Consol Energy Center, plus it’s another entertainment venue.”

But S&P’s downgrades don’t breed confidence.

“I don’t think things are as rosy at the casino as they say,” Gamrat said. “And we know that the casino industry’s revenues slack off in the fall.”

S&P’s Listner said he remains concerned that Holdings Gaming can generate enough cash at Rivers to make payments on its debt as well as maintain the property.

“The opinions of rating agencies have no impact whatsoever on the operations of Rivers Casino,” responded Rivers spokesman Jack Horner.

Property maintenance, specifically casino upgrades, can become a big strain for any casino, consultant Christiansen said. Casino owners must spend huge amounts of capital every five to seven years to refresh their properties.

“Those in the casino industry always are trying to make themselves the next great property by constantly updating, adding new equipment,” Listner said. “Five years down the road could be a real challenge for the Rivers’ owners. We’re concerned now with the level of cash flow to meet debt service as well as upkeep.”

In short, the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which was successfully pitched based on all of the same arguments being advanced by the idiots who think that a half mile south of the southern boundary of the Gettysburg battlefield is a great place for a casino, is not performing anywhere close to the projections for its performance. The actual numbers are almost 50% below those originally projected by the owners, and it has been downgraded by Standard & Poors three times in the past year. And this was the most expensive casino in the state.

To the people of Adams County who support this terrible idea: Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Again, please join in me in doing all you can to prevent this from happening.

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The following editorial appeared in today’s edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Casinos again pose a threat to battlefield
It is altogether fitting and proper that gambling be kept away from Gettysburg’s hallowed ground.

By Mindy Crawford

In the months and years to come, Americans can expect to witness and participate in a wide variety of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Official committees and commissions in numerous states, including Pennsylvania, are planning reenactments, exhibits, lectures, concerts, tours, and other opportunities to mark the occasion. The vast majority of events are planned to highlight the significance of this turning point in American history, to encourage thoughtful commemorations befitting such a solemn theme.

But here in the Keystone State, there is one proposal up for state approval that is markedly different. We Pennsylvanians are confronted with a proposal that runs radically counter to that far-reaching commitment to the remembrance of what happened on the now-deathless fields where the Civil War was decided. The question before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board: whether, on the eve of the Civil War sesquicentennial, to license a casino at the gateway to America’s most blood-soaked battlefield.

That’s right – should gambling be given a Gettysburg address?

If this all sounds a bit too familiar, it should. Less than five years ago, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board rejected a prior proposal to build a casino on the doorstep of the Gettysburg battlefield, partially on the strength of the impassioned outcry from around the state and across the country. Now, however, another group of investors has again raised the specter of this ill-conceived idea, and chosen an even worse location for the venture.

Though the investors continue to make the argument that the casino would bring much-needed jobs to Adams County, the economic viability of an Adams County casino location is questionable, at best. A key argument made in the previous application was that a Gettysburg casino would draw patrons from Baltimore and Washington, logic that has also been applied to the current site. However, the explosion of gambling facilities throughout the Mid-Atlantic, vying for the same customers as an Adams County location, totally undermines a business model that the gaming board found questionable when it rejected the previous application.

Worse yet, a casino could have a disastrous impact on Gettysburg’s heritage tourism-based economy. In Vicksburg, Miss. – home to a similarly famed battlefield of that war – the development of casinos was accompanied by a drastic decline in visitation to the National Park and a slow strangling of the local, tourism-based economy. Risking a similar outcome is a gamble Gettysburg cannot afford.

Such irresponsible and incompatible development also seriously threatens to undermine the sanctity of the famed Gettysburg landscape. Casino proponents have put forth a variety of creative measurements to distort the site’s location and significance, but the truth is this: The casino would be located just a half-mile from the boundary of the Gettysburg National Military Park, on land identified as historically sensitive by the American Battlefield Protection Program, an arm of the National Park Service. Suggesting that the battlefield and the visitors’ experience somehow stops at the administrative, political boundary of a park, as investors attempt to do, is simply ludicrous.

Similarly, to imagine that a development of this type and scope will not spawn further inappropriate growth at the largely rural edges of the battlefield is naive. So, too, is believing that all of the promises made by casino investors as they seek their license, such as limiting construction to retrofitting existing buildings, will be kept once approval is granted. Bitter, long-term reality indicates that should amendments to state gaming laws be considered again in the future – as they were this winter, when table games were approved and the application process for this remaining license was reopened – this and other gaming locations will continue to grow to the maximum permissible size.

Next year, the beginning of the sesquicentennial will serve as a time for Pennsylvanians, and all Americans, to commemorate our past and celebrate our future. The two, of course, go hand in hand. Recently, nearly 280 historians wrote to Gaming Control Board chairman Gregory Fajt that the casino threatens the “essential meaning of Gettysburg’s place in American history.” And on the eve of our Civil War’s sesquicentennial, protecting that legacy is particularly critical.

Ms. Crawford is, of course, absolutely correct. The statistics about visitation to the Vicksburg battlefield declining substantially after the opening of a casino there are especially telling and provide all of the reasons necessary to oppose this hare-brained idea. Once more, I call on all of my readers to do all you can to oppose this stupid idea.

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