A Gettysburg casino proposal is facing strong resistance from locals, history buffs, and even the US National Park Service.
Area businessman David LeVan, who owns Battlefield Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle dealership in Gettysburg, wants to build a horse racetrack and casino just three miles from the hallowed ground where the Civil War took a turning point in July of 1863.
Thousands of Pennsylvania residents, annual Gettysburg visitors, and historical groups across the country have come out in opposition to the casino proposal.
More than 7,000 individuals have signed a petition to block the gambling venue, and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and US National Park Service have also publicly opposed the project.
“With over one million families, school groups and other visitors drawn to the battlefield each year, Gettysburg National Military Park has already proven to be an enduring part of the community,” the NPCA said in a statement. “Approving a horse racetrack and casino would forever change this treasured place.”
Race Against Time
Pennsylvania’s Horse Racing Commission (HRC) holds one more license that it can grant to a qualified bidder who wishes to build a new racing facility. Of course, any potential investor would only bid on such a racing venue should they also be allowed to offer gaming, as the horse racing industry has been dying over recent decades.
A year ago, the HRC formally rejected a plan to establish a racino in the western part of the state. That freed the racing license, and LeVan moved forward with developing a casino in Gettysburg.
The racing license comes with a $50,000 application fee, and additional $50,000 charge upon approval.
Once the racing license is issued, and only then, will the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board consider approving the new facility for gaming. That license, however, comes at a much steeper cost, with $50 million permit charge for slots, and $16.5 million for table games.
The HRC says bids are due in June, but to date, only LeVan is interested. That might be on fears from potential developers that the state is readying to loosen its gaming laws.
Though the HRC isn’t required to dispense the final license, many are concerned Gettysburg’s largely untouched community, in terms of commercial development, is at stake.
LeVan, a Gettysburg native who attended the town’s college, says he only has the area’s economic prosperity in mind.
He explains that the location of his Gettysburg casino would be three miles from the actual sacred battlefields where upwards of 50,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives during the three-day engagement in 1863.
That’s a farther distance, LeVan correctly points out, than Valley Forge Casino Resort is from Valley Forge National Historical Park.
LeVan believes a gaming venue would only increase tourism and make Gettysburg a more appealing destination to a wider demographic.
“As we’ve already seen in Pennsylvania, gaming and Pennsylvania’s rich historical heritage can co-exist quite nicely,” LeVan said in a statement this month. “We have an opportunity to do something special here.”