Battle of . . . Gettysburg Casino, Resort & Spa?
TESS VIGELAND: Seven score and three years ago the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War took place at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The site has since become hallowed ground. Hallowed ground with slews of tourist buses... But hallowed ground nonetheless. Now a different kind of battle altogether has erupted over appropriate land use in Gettysburg. Slots-only gambling is now legal in Pennyslvania. And there's a proposal to build a casino and spa near the battlefield. Martha Woodroof of WMRA reports.
MARTHA WOODROOF: Call it the second battle of Gettysburg.
MAN: They want to put a casino here, Katherine.
KATHERINE: I know. I know.
MAN: It's an abomination. This is hallowed ground. This is a sacred place.
Maybe so. But does that mean the entire area has to be a slots-fee zone? The location targeted by Chance Enterprises for its new casino is on Route 15, a major expressway linking the Washington metro area to Harrisburg, Pa. It's a short distance, but a long cultural leap from Gettysburg and its world-famous battlefield.
Richard Schmoyer directs the Adams County Office of Planning and Development:
RICHARD SCHMOYER: It very definitely was and still is a commercial highway strip like you have all across America. It's the place where the Wal-Mart located.
And along which a flood of D.C. folks roar — most without stopping in historical Gettysburg, a town of 7,500.
JOHN PACINI: I've never seen such sleepy retail in my life in this town. It's horrible.
Las Vegas transplant, John Pacini, makes a cappuccino in a downtown coffee shop-book store called The Spot.
PACINI: I think this town is in dire straits for this casino. And spa. A great spa and restaurants . . . How can you go wrong?
The investment group — put together by former Conrail CEO and owner of a Harley dealership, David Levan — has commissioned studies claiming the casino will boost the local economy with over $217 million in construction-related income, $224 million in new annual economic activity, and a whole slew of new jobs. Mr. Levan:
DAVID LEVAN: We think that when we are up and running in kind of a stable state that the jobs at the facility itself will approximate a thousand. The downstream employment would be another 2,000 jobs.
The opposition, the grass roots group No Casino Gettysburg, has also done research which predicts increased local gambling addiction and cautions against diluting the region's current economic strength: historical tourism. The group's studies say a casino could also destroy the town's existing businesses. Susan Starr Paddock is chair:
SUSAN STARR PADDOCK: $62.4 million of current retail resident and visitor sales will be sucked into the casino as though it were some giant vacuum cleaner. It will not be money that will continue to sustain our large number of mom and pop stores.
Oh those contradictory studies. Stacks and stacks of them.
MEG BERNHARDT: I try. I really do.
Meg Bernhardt has the unenviable task of covering the casino confusion for the Hanover Evening Sun.
BERNHARDT: You know, when you've got someone saying that this is going to bring millions and millions of dollars more money to this economy, and then you have someone else saying that it's actually going to take money away from this economy, how do you reconcile that?
`Turns out you may not have to. Chance enterprises must first get its gaming license. But if they do — and a decision is expected this December — both Pennsylvania state law and case law say that jurisdictions with zoning can't block legitimate land use through zoning.
The verbal guns of Gettysburg II are reverberating from California to the New York Island as national preservation groups mobilize against the casino. And that's all is a bit rich in the eyes of John Pacini, our cappuccino maker. He says gambling has a place in history too.
If the soldiers were here, if the casino was here during the battle, at night the soldiers would have been gambling.
In Gettysburg, Pa., I'm Martha Woodroof for Marketplace.