THE “GAMING BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG - 2005-2017”

By Tanya Wagner

 Since 2005, the nation has been hoping the furor surrounding the issue of opening a casino on Gettysburg’s doorstep would finally end and that the investor and his supporters would be motivated to change course. Why not embark instead on plans to attract businesses more compatible with the community's character and/or not hurtful to their most dynamic economic engine, heritage tourism. Regrettably, 12 years later, such inspired ideas have not materialized and now, today, we find bucolic Freedom Township taking its turn to face a new gaming industry assault which periodically emerges, each time in a different municipality that includes or abuts Gettysburg. This is reminiscent of the arcade game Whack-a-Mole, where players try to hit a toy animal when it emerges at random before it quickly disappears and pop ups again in another spot.

 There are many who live in Gettysburg who truly appreciate what they have and will fight to prevent its character and appearance from being cheapened and eroded by any entity that would threaten to do so.  Many have moved here from other places precisely because of what the town, its heritage and surrounding communities offer as a desirable place to live.

 Sadly, others have come to take this unique place so much for granted they even resent what has made Gettysburg and its contextual areas a veritable mecca for visitors world-wide; a site recognized and revered to the four corners of the earth as much for its beauty as for its important place in history. I suggest to those people that if a critical battle of the most savage war ever fought on North American soil had not been fought here, there would be no enduring heritage tourism engine driving its thriving economy. In fact, Gettysburg would still be the sleepy, virtually unknown farming town it was on June 30, 1863. What exists today, however, is something far different; more precious and as such, infinitely more vulnerable. The privilege of living here carries with it a solemn responsibility of careful and respectful stewardship, never to be taken lightly or shortsightedly.   

 Twice before, the specter of a casino and all it portends economically, socially and environmentally has been zealously defended and passionately contested. And both times, it was soundly rejected; unanimously by the Gaming Control Board and emphatically by world-wide public opinion and activism. The fact that local casino defenders were irate at the welter of negative reactions from “outside meddlers,” showed there was little recognition among them that Gettysburg belongs to all of us, both as part of our American history and as taxpayers. Moreover, the fact also has seemed to escape these same supporters that more compatible economic development would never have generated the opposition they despise and resent.

 As far as the two previous casino initiatives, promises were made of benevolent oversight and protection from leadership that would remain safely in the hands of a well-known “native son.” Yet David LeVan has been only the “front man” in the two previous attempts. In the 2nd try, 98% of the stock was actually held by a Florida businessman who was also a 76% investor. Financial projections on the current proposal have not been released. Subsequent credible and well-researched studies also showed that financial and manpower projections for this venture were significantly inflated, while negative effects on the community’s infrastructure, public and social services were low-balled or ignored.  

 When salaries of a gaming venture’s top positions’ are backed out of wage and hour calculations and based instead on the majority of jobs offered to those in the community, the average is about $12.50/hour or $26,000 annual income. (Ed. Note: On Hollywood Casino’s website, in April,17 there are 33 job openings at Hollywood Casino in Grantville, 7 FT, 26 PT. Table games dealers start at 7.35 per hr. )

 Furthermore, as far as claims of high potential for an ever-ascending career path, consider the 40 %annual employee turnover at Penn National. That’s a rate we call in business a “revolving door” statistic, leaving such pronouncements with little credence.  Where’s the vision to see beyond the mediocrity of casino jobs and the pall such an enterprise would cast on Gettysburg’s distinctive identity? Polling conducted in the past reflects that a majority of Pennsylvanians think that gaming should not be located near memorials to overwhelmingly tragic occurrences like Gettysburg and Shanksville. Those opinions are based on their concern about ongoing threats of unsuited development located in proximity to our most sacred places.

 Freedom Township residents are capable of doing better. It’s sad that there are some folks who don't think it’s possible, having been misled with specious and overblown assertions. But there are other forms of economic development initiatives that would be better matches and do something more constructive for their community than recycle money and pick their residents’ pockets.

Since we are surrounded by large casinos within an hour’s drive, the patrons would have to come from the local area. At the most recent Freedom Township Planning Commission public meeting, a resident claiming she would love to be able to gamble close by was answered by another that if she worked at this proposed casino, she’d be prohibited from doing so. Laughter and applause erupted through the audience when someone shouted, ”you made our case…everyone would have jobs!” OK, so if this venue will be largely supported by locals as promoters tell us…and the locals are mostly employed in the hundreds of casino jobs created…where will the crowds come from to support this venture sufficiently to make it a success?

 It’s been said many times that we don’t learn from history…so why don’t we listen and take a lesson from the past?

Wed, 24 May 2017 
James Rife 
To: PA Rep.Dan Moul 
 Dear Dan,

I saw this news article yesterday and it disturbed me greatly, as a Pennsylvania taxpayer: http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-casino-host-fee-deadline-20170518-story.html

In light of the current (and latest) casino debate in Gettysburg (I'm strongly opposed by the way, since Mr. Levan wants to locate his huge complex about a mile from my house in Freedom Township and it has the potential to swallow the entire community),  I have to ask why Pennsylvania taxpayers should be obligated to either prop up or bail out with public funds those existing casinos which aren't pulling their weight, despite past agreements and promises that they would be virtual money machines for hosting communities?

Here's the part of the story that offends me greatly:

"Under two bills offered in the House, host municipalities would continue to get the same amount of funding, but through a different formula. The formula would be based off each casino's separate $50 million licensing fee, rather than off revenue.

Of course any change to the state's gambling law presents a Pandora's Box risk, but the chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee believes he can fend off amendments and offer lawmakers a bill that fixes the problem.

"My goal as chairman is to have this bill run as cleanly as we could without many fights," said Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks. "We're looking just to keep the status quo instead of building in a cadre of other issues."

Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County, said a Senate bill being introduced Wednesday would offer smaller casinos, like Mt. Airy, money to help offset the $10 million host fee.

Such casinos would pay the $10 million host fee, Scavello said, but the state then would provide them money for marketing or expansion. Without the assistance, he believes, it would be unfair to make casinos of different sizes pay the same flat rate.

"We're going to look under the pillow [for funding]," Scavello said, a nod to the state's $1.2 billion deficit. "We have a cadre of options we will be discussing.""

I'm sorry, but weren't casinos supposed to be self-sustaining financially?  And what money is "under the pillow," as Scavello says?  I thought that Pennsylvania was in a dire financial situation.  Is there a secret slush fund sitting around somewhere for when casinos get in trouble?

I'm also offended that legislators like Petri and Scavello have no problem using public funds to back up private billion-dollar businesses like casinos.  My wife ran a very nice Victorian dress and accessories shop in Gettysburg but was forced out of business in 2010 because of the terrible recession from the housing and banking collapse of 2008-2009 (her clients lost their disposable wealth and stopped buying).  The state was nowhere to be found back then to help her out as she was closing her doors and auctioning off her merchandise and store fixtures.  But the public coffers are apparently thrown open when casinos come calling with their hats in hand.

So yeah, I'm really irritated by all this talk in Harrisburg about propping up the smaller casinos with public funds.

Sincerely,

James P. Rife, Gettysburg, Adams County

I find the Gettysburg area near and dear to my heart and soul. Been there over 100 times, and find very few places on earth that hold the very essence of what America is, and what was almost lost during those three days. I enjoy gambling, drinking and such, but do not and will never feel, that Gettysburg and such establishments are made for one another. Please I beg you, not to tarnish the memory of the men who fought on both sides, or reduce such sacred and hallowed ground to a side show attraction...Thank you... Kenneth Reader, Sunbury, PA, Feb 7, 2017