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Casino debate: Protecting history vs. improving economy

August 31, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
  • The line to sign in for a casino hearing Tuesday in Adams County, Pa., stretches out the door of the Comfort Inn & Suites in Gettysburg, Pa.
Photo by Jennifer Fitch,

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Signs proclaiming "No Casino" and "Pro Casino" dotted the landscape in Adams County, Pa., Tuesday, but they were dwarfed by the electronic one announcing large volumes of vehicular and pedestrian traffic approaching a hearing being held by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Nearly 400 people registered to speak about the perceived benefits and pitfalls of a proposal by Mason-Dixon Resorts LP. Gettysburg businessman David LeVan is spearheading planning for a $75 million resort and casino that would be operated by Penn National Gaming.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will award the one remaining Category 3 resort casino license to one of four applicants. Other groups proposed facilities in Cumberland, Monroe and Fayette counties.

The Category 3 license will allow the recipient to operate up to 600 slot machines and up to 50 table games.

Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino would open at the existing Eisenhower Hotel & Conference Center on Emmitsburg Road, a couple of miles north of the Maryland line. A resort planner and designer told the gaming control board the casino would have a "rustic, elegant design" and "lodge-like" main lobby, staying within the facility's current footprint.

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LeVan called the Eisenhower Hotel a "jewel of Adams County" and promised his fulfilled vision would "set the standard for a Casino 3 license."

Local government leaders, who were some of the first speakers, shared their support for the project, saying it would provide revenue for municipal projects and ease the tax burden, as well as create needed jobs.

"The national economy is struggling. We here in Adams County have seen some tough times and are struggling, too," County Commissioner Lisa Moreno-Woodward said.

Adams County has 1,300 tax-exempt properties for things like parks and schools, putting a greater burden on other property owners, Moreno-Woodward said.

"Real estate taxes are the county's only source of revenue," she said.

Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino's developers pledged $10,000 each year for 10 years for county emergency services, Moreno-Woodward said. They also voluntarily guaranteed $1 million a year to Cumberland Township, where the facility would be located, regardless of the business' performance, Supervisors Chairman David Waybright said.

For their part, opponents debuted a video featuring filmmaker Ken Burns, actors Sam Waterston and Matthew Broderick, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough and local residents suggesting that the casino's approval would betray the country's duty to protect the place where Civil War soldiers died to save the nation.

"We are asking you to please deny this application, to make your legacy saving Gettysburg," Susan Starr Paddock of No Casino Gettysburg told gaming board members at the video's conclusion.

State Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams/Franklin, said he did not want to take a side in the debate, but encouraged the gaming board to listen to Adams County residents.

"I personally believe this is a local issue that should be influenced by the needs and desires of Adams County residents," Moul said. He added that "outsiders" might offer testimony that would attempt to sway the decision for special interests.

Moul reminded the gaming board and crowd that a legitimate business has the right to apply and go through the licensing process, just as citizens have the right to offer their opinions.

Among the people gathered as registered speakers were a man dressed as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, men and women with "Pro Jobs" shirts, and a priest. Dozens of reporters and photojournalists crammed in one portion of the Comfort Inn & Suites conference room.

The line of speakers and attendees snaked outside the building as people signed in before the hearing's scheduled 10 a.m. start. The hearing began about 15 minutes late due to an apparent discussion between lawyers about whether people speaking in videos needed to be sworn in.

Gregory C. Fajt, chairman of the gaming board, was one of four board members present for Mason-Dixon Resorts LP's opening presentation.

Fajt has previously said a decision could be made by the end of the year.

"Our Adams County economy may rise and fall on the PGCB ruling," Moul said.

The hearing was expected to continue Wednesday due to the amount of testimony. Written comments on the Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino plan will be accepted for the next 60 days at http://www.pgcb.state.pa.us.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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