28 April 2010 by Published in: Battlefield preservation No comments yet

From the editorial page of today’s edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Editorial: No dice on Gettysburg

Since the state Gaming Control Board in 2006 rejected a proposed slots parlor several miles from the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, it’s hard to see how a full-blown casino just a half-mile south of the hallowed ground is an improvement.

Former Conrail chairman David M. LeVan is back with another proposal to build a casino near where thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers fought and died during the pivotal battle.

Like his failed bid for a gambling license, LeVan’s new proposal has rekindled the dispute between civic leaders, merchants, Civil War buffs, and conservationists over whether gambling can coexist with the historic site.

Up for grabs among four bidders around the state is a hotel-based resort license providing for up to 600 slot machines and 50 table games. A decision is months away, so that gives Gettysburg residents time to make their sentiments known to the gaming board, which certainly shouldn’t force-feed a casino down the historic town’s throat.

LeVan’s previous pitch for a 3,000-machine slots hall was at least somewhat removed from where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous speech, though the idea of a seedy casino anywhere near the quaint town and historic battlefield is troubling.

A coalition of historic and preservation groups – including the Civil War Preservation Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Preservation Pennsylvania – says the new site along storied Emmitsburg Road is simply too close to where soldiers marched.

Casino officials counter that this corridor already has been commercialized. What’s more, LeVan and his investors are making the case that the Adams County economy needs a boost even more than it did four years ago.

Even with a smaller gambling footprint at the proposed Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino, there’s little question the project would generate added tax revenue. Proponents also contend that a Gettysburg casino would capture gamblers from Maryland.

But with the new Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center open, there’s an even greater economic incentive not to mar the experience of battlefield visitors.

It is hard to make the case that the two disparate groups of visitors – gamblers and history buffs – would complement each other. In fact, Gettysburg has thrived for decades largely because it has stayed true to its historic roots.

The Gettysburg dispute offers another reason why gambling in the long run remains a bad bet for Pennsylvania. There may be short-term gains from the added tax revenue. But the long-term societal costs that follow gambling – including increases in crime, personal bankruptcies, alcoholism, and divorce rates – are not something Gettysburg wants to make part of its history.

Good for the editorial board of the Inquirer for taking the right position on this divisive issue. The bottom line is that there are plenty of casinos. There is only one Gettysburg. And that one Gettysburg should be casino-free.

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