Saturday, January 28, 2006

88: “Seeing the Light”


The Hartford Courant is the oldest daily newspaper in the country, and in fact, it proudly claims to be “older than the nation”. They began publishing in 1764, and have made every daily deadline since then. That’s quite a legacy.

A recent article and accompanying editorial in their online (and print) edition caught GettysBLOG’s eye. The Courant sent a reporter and a photographer to Gettysburg to find out what’s going on with the proposed casino here. There is interest because of Connecticut’s own casinos, principally, Foxwoods.

The article was written by Courant Reporter Rinker Buck, and was published as part of their NE Magazine. GettysBLOG regrets the inability to publish the accompanying photos taken by Photographer Richard Messina, but anyone wishing to see them can go to the following link for the article, "The Second Battle of Gettysburg", and click on the link in the Photo Gallery box on the right side of the page.
The Photos are well worth seeing. Here is the article, reproduced here with the permission of the Courant:

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The Second Battle Of Gettysburg

By RINKER BUCK
Photographed by Richard Messina

January 22 2006

GETTYSBURG, PA. -- As it moves into retirement, the Baby Boom is leaving one uncontestable mark on American life: the proliferation of casino gambling. Debated a generation ago as the start of a slippery moral slope, casino gambling has become a pervasive feature of our economy.

Starting from a remote, desert enclave in Nevada in the 1950s, commercial and Indian gaming enterprises have grown to a network of more than 300 casinos in 24 states. More than 60 million Americans now willingly part with upward of $50 billion a year at the nation's gaming tables and slots.

Thoughts like these may not ordinarily strike a visitor standing atop Little Round Top on a crisp winter afternoon, as the setting sun casts orange and purple reflections on one of America's most exquisitely preserved battlefields. But the spread of casino gambling and its impact on America - in places both sacred and profane - is now an unavoidable subject in this serene southern Pennsylvania town. In what has been called "The Second Battle of Gettysburg," an epic struggle over the spread of legal gambling has been raging here for months.

Gettysburg's - and Pennsylvania's - troubles began in 2004, when the administration of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell began worrying that proposals to introduce gambling in neighboring Maryland and New York put pressure on Pennsylvania to do the same or lose potential revenues. (New Jersey and West Virginia had already introduced gambling.)

In July that year, in a dead-of-the-night vote that caused a furious political storm, the state legislature passed Act 71, allowing up to 61,000 slot machines at 14 locations across the state, most of them at existing pari-mutuel racetracks. Two stand-alone betting parlors in existing tourist areas were authorized, inviting a scrum of local real-estate entrepreneurs, out-of-state gaming companies and politically connected investors to propose casinos everywhere from the Poconos to western Pennsylvania.

Both of Connecticut's gambling behemoths are planning to invest in the Pennsylvania boom, mostly to protect themselves from losses in revenue if Northeastern gamblers are diverted to the new Pennsylvania gaming spots. The Mohegan Tribe, which purchased the Pocono Downs racetrack in 2004, is assured of one of the licenses and is now upgrading an aging horse track and transforming it into a small Mohegan Sun. The Mashantucket Pequots, who own Foxwoods Resorts Casino, recently applied for a license to open a slots parlor in downtown Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania's Gaming Control Board will choose from among the eight proposals for the stand-alone slots parlors and award licenses later this year.

Gettysburg's entrant is David M. LeVan, a Gettysburg native and local business hero. His involvement in this scramble has surprised and divided the town, where historic preservation and protecting the community's tourist environment are perceived as next to godliness.

LeVan returned to this small town of 7,400 people in 1998 to enjoy the modest fortune he earned as chief executive of Consolidated Rail Corp., opening a Harley-Davidson dealership and throwing himself at civic efforts in town. Among other accomplishments, LeVan, as chairman of the board of his alma mater, Gettysburg College, presided over a $100 million capital improvement at the school, helped restore the train station where Abraham Lincoln arrived to deliver the Gettysburg Address, and raised money for the revival of a downtown theater.

He also sold 45 acres of family land to a group planning a Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum near his restored Victorian farmhouse on Gettysburg's Baltimore Pike, and he is helping raise money for the project.

Although he tools around town on a Harley with his ponytail blowing in the breeze, LeVan was the last person most residents expected to join a group of Harrisburg investors who propose to build a 3,000-slot parlor on 44 acres along Route 30 east of town.

The group, called Chance Enterprises, announced in April 2005 that its Gettysburg Gaming Resort and Spa would include a four-star hotel with 224 rooms and a 30,000-square-foot spa. Last fall, after opposition mounted to the project - particularly over the exploitation of the Gettysburg name in promoting the development - Chance Enterprises members announced that they were changing the name to Crossroads Gaming Resort & Spa. A subsidiary of Wall Street investment giant Morgan Stanley has pledged $80 million in backing for the $300 million project.

"They [Chance Enterprises] were looking for someone locally to bring credibility to their proposal," says LeVan. "My immediate reaction was twofold. I could see the real potential from the economic impact, but I also recognized the potential for the emotional debate that takes place over the pros and cons of gambling. ... I take the view that gambling is just another form of entertainment."

But gambling as just another form of entertainment did not mesh at all with Gettysburg's image of itself.

Susan Star Paddock, a psychotherapist and professional coach who lives on a 130-acre farm near the battlefield, was immediately opposed to LeVan's plans when she heard about them last spring but initially doubted the depth of local concern. Her husband, Jim Paddock, is one of the founders of an Adams County land conservation group, and together they helped organize meetings of anti-casino residents last spring and summer.

"It was standing room only at those meetings, which is when it became clear to us just how much opposition there was," Susan Paddock says. "This is the place where the decisive battle was fought making our nation free of slavery. This is where the Union was confirmed and Abraham Lincoln delivered the most famous speech in the world. Gambling just didn't fit on this hallowed ground, and it was amazing to see how many people here shared such strong values. Adams County was full of people who valued history and the family-friendly environment that surrounded this battlefield."

By the early summer, Paddock had been named head of a lively and well-organized anti-casino group - No Casino Gettysburg - that has pursued a two-pronged approach. While organizing local citizens opposed to Chance Enterprises plans, No Casino Gettysburg has also acted as a local clearinghouse for a broad array of national groups that have campaigned against the Crossroads casino, elevating the battle to a level that is difficult for one group of local investors to fight.

To date, the gambling proposal has been opposed by the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, 36 local churches, the faculty at Gettysburg College and 70 local businesses. Four well-funded national groups - including the Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Trust for Historic Preservation - have come out against the Gettysburg casino, as have both of Pennsylvania's U.S. senators and the local congressman. The National Council of Churches is also opposed.

Even Rendell, who signed the enabling legislation, said during a September 2005 television appearance, "I wouldn't want [a casino] anywhere close to the historic area of Gettysburg." Rendell has reiterated his opposition to gambling in Gettysburg in subsequent interviews.

According to the Rev. Tom Grey, a former U.S. Army infantry captain, United Methodist minister and field coordinator of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, "It's very appropriate to call this the second battle of Gettysburg because when the Union general [John] Buford arrived in Gettysburg on the first day in 1863, he immediately perceived that he had to commit to hold the high ground along Seminary Ridge.

"That's exactly what Susan Star Paddock and her group have done now," Grey continues. "We've found in fighting these casino gambling proposals all over the country that if you start reacting to these predatory investors, you lose. You have to define the terms of the battle first. Paddock and her group have been very good at defining this as a national issue revolving around the point of what kind of community Gettysburg should be."

The outpouring of national support for her group has dramatically changed Paddock's perception of the community she has lived in since 1993.

"There was just this huge amount of interest in this story as soon as we organized, which we couldn't believe at first," Paddock says. "We began to realize that, next to their own hometowns, Gettysburg is one of the most beloved towns in America for so many of its visitors. It comes from reciting the Gettysburg Address in school and studying the Civil War. People just have this instinctive reaction - Gettysburg and a casino in one thought is just repulsive. We still don't understand how these casino investors didn't instinctively see this themselves before they announced their plan."

LeVan dismisses this criticism as so much blue-nosing by opponents who simply don't understand the distinct business advantages of introducing slots to a heavily traveled area where visitors have free time on their hands after an afternoon of heritage tourism.

"A lot of the people in the opposition have been quite self-righteous and personal in their attacks on me," he says. "The opposition is based on an anti-gambling moral bias. In my opinion, that debate already occurred when the state of Pennsylvania enacted legislation allowing gambling."

In fact, Paddock and her new best friends in the national battlefield preservation and anti-gambling movements have marshaled many convincing arguments that the economic benefits of the proposed gaming operation don't begin to outweigh the known consequences of establishing gambling: unimaginable traffic snarls, gambling addictions within a local population that hadn't experienced it before, crime and a rise in personal bankruptcies.

As part of its application for a casino license, Chance Enterprises has commissioned an economic impact study by a George Mason University economist who projects that the $300 million project would create 3,052 new jobs in the area. New business activity would generate an estimated $148 million of increased spending, and the Gettysburg Area School District would realize more than $2 million in tax revenue. Most important, the casino investors say, the new gambling hall would attract 3 million visitors year-round to Gettysburg, evening out a now-seasonal tourism industry in which most of the 1.8 million visitors come in the summer months.

In short, gambling would more than double the number of tourist visits to Adams County, extending its existing business into the winter months and filling hotels at exactly the time that traditional "heritage tourists" are not visiting the battlefield and downtown shops.

But the real question goes beyond how much gambling would change the historic qualities of Gettysburg. How much would new gambling business pillage existing tourism?

Figures produced by the Civil War Preservation Trust show that the various Gettysburg battlefield attractions, museums and local businesses support 2,653 local jobs and generate $17 million in state and local taxes. Overall, Gettysburg's 1.8 million visitors generate $121 million annually in retail spending.

Earl L. Grinols, of Baylor University economics professor, is nationally recognized for conducting studies that measure the benefits and costs of introducing gambling. He likens Gettysburg's situation to Branson, Mo., the town with dozens of country music theaters that in 2004 rejected a gambling proposal because it would too dramatically alter the town's existing image and probably economically detract from its music franchise. (Barbara Ernico, one of the investors in Chance Enterprises, has visited the Vicksburg, Miss., battlefield area and argues that riverboat gambling in that area has not adversely affected that Civil War site.)

"In a place like Gettysburg, where you already have a lot of tourists coming in, how do you know that the casino won't just cut away at the existing base?" Grinols asks. "You would need to create some economic models to specifically measure this, but they would probably show that you would only be cannibalizing existing tourist revenues by introducing gambling."

Grinols points out that most studies of gambling show that "regional convenience" gambling parlors like the proposal in Gettysburg draw a high percentage of customers from a radius 35 to 70 miles away, drawing most of their money out of the local population. A high percentage of these revenues, Grinols says, comes from "addictive and pathological" gamblers who now have a local opportunity to play the slots.

Grinols also rejects the argument that opponents who cite the "hallowed ground" value of a location like Gettysburg are making a weak argument that appeals to the emotions instead of hard economic sense.

"The `hallowed ground' argument is not specious," Grinols says. "Abraham Lincoln went there and called it that. People misunderstand what is economic. Anything that enhances the well-being of human beings, that is valued by human beings, is economic. So, by destroying what the conception of Gettysburg is, we've destroyed economic value."

No Casinos Gettysburg has drawn a great deal of its national following from the visceral response outsiders have to the idea of introducing gambling to such a recognized national landmark. At the height of the summer tourist season last year, Jim Paddock often helped his wife man tables set up downtown to collect petition signatures against Chance Enterprises' plans.

"We've literally had people come up to us on the street, " Jim Paddock says. "They say , `Oh no, don't let them do that here. We're from Connecticut and we have Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. We've seen what a casino does to a town.' "

In 1863, Washington, D.C., figured prominently in the development of the battle at Gettysburg because Confederate General Robert E. Lee marched north in an attempt to either destroy the Union forces or slide around their left in order to harass the capital city along the Potomac. Washington figures just as prominently in the second Gettysburg go-round.

The exploding suburbs of the Beltway area - some of them only 45 minutes from Gettysburg - need to relieve pressure by pushing north. Lower land prices in southern Pennsylvania and the fact that the state doesn't tax pensions has led to an explosion of 55-plus retirement communities. Semi-rural Straban Township just outside Gettysburg, where the Chance Enterprises casino would be built, faces the prospect of some 19,000 new homes going up over the next 10 years, according to a consultant presenting a recent "land use assumptions" report to the community.

"That's exactly why we're building this casino" says Chance Enterprises partner Barbara Ernico. "The township is already booming with all this new building," she said, and tax revenue generated by the casino would fund the required additional town services and police support.

But there's considerable evidence that this classic developer's argument - building begets more building to pay for the services an expanding town can barely afford - isn't working in Gettysburg.

Faced with the opposition of Pennsylvania's governor, the state's congressional delegation, powerful national preservation groups and what appears to be the majority of local residents, the Crossroads casino is not given much hope of winning a state license from the State Gaming Commission.

And, as in 1863, most residents in town look forward to the battle of Gettysburg just being over. They vow not to exact revenge from the enemy once the smoke has cleared.

Dean A. Shultz is a well-known and loved Gettysburg surveyor, a battlefield tour guide and a founder of the Land Conservancy of Adams County. He grew up just down Baltimore Pike from David LeVan, knows him well, and has vocally opposed his neighbor's plans for a casino.

"Oh, look, let's just get it straight - we all like David LeVan quite a bit," Shultz says. "He's a local boy who left town, made his money, and then came back and did a lot to preserve this town. How or why he got tied up in this casino business we'll never figure out. But I just figure he'll be riding by on that motorbike of his and finally figure out that this gambling project isn't good for us, or him."

Rinker Buck is an NE magazine staff writer.

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I doubt the reader will be able to find a more honest appraisal of the situation in Gettysburg regarding its proposed casino.

Newspaper editors are often portrayed as extreme, heartless, or even worse, political. We seem to think we might have found one different from the stereotypical News Room Editor. Jennifer Frank wrote a companion editorial to Rinker Buck’s superb article above. Here is that editorial, reproduced with permission of the Courant. Ms. Frank’s article can be seen at the online Hartford Courant NE Magazine site at "The Final Resting Place".

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The Final Resting Place

By Jennifer Frank

January 22, 2006
As writer Rinker Buck began work on this week's cover story, the subject matter seemed to me to both expand and deepen. We started with, merely, the idea of a casino in Gettysburg, Pa. The not terribly witty quips quickly flew around the office, about the Pickett's Charge Motel and the Robert E. Lee Dunkin' Donuts across the street from the George G. Meade Starbucks.

But the whole concept and tone of the story changed, at least to me, when Courant photographer Rich Messina returned from several days in Gettysburg and we saw his pictures. Photos do that, of course. When the abstract becomes concrete, it's harder to look away, harder to look past what's real, harder to joke. So we suddenly saw the site that was the subject of Abraham Lincoln's most famous speech, an address inspired by the ungodly number of deaths on those extraordinary battlegrounds. We stared at those fields and monuments to people like Lee and Joshua Chamberlain, and at places like Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top. They seem emblematic of so much more.

Many students of American history assert that it was at Gettysburg, in our bloodiest conflict, that the fate of our country was determined. If so, the end of American slavery can be traced back to what happened there over those three terrible days in 1863. With the Emancipation Proclamation, and the end of the Civil War two years later, our country finally had the potential to assume the moral stature and character our Founding Fathers envisioned - one in which freedom could exist for all of its people.

The conflict over a casino at Gettysburg, then, as Buck writes, becomes more than a question of bringing jobs or revenue. It becomes more than the conflict between money for the state vs. the social costs of casinos, as Rick Green, the Courant's gambling and Indian affairs reporter, writes on Page 5. It becomes a matter of national identity, of what must be seen, even to the most cynical of us, as hallowed ground. Looked at in this way, a casino in Gettysburg becomes as inconceivable as poker at Plymouth Rock or baccarat at Ellis Island.

To paraphrase Lincoln's address: It is neither fitting nor proper that we should do this.


E-mail: frank@courant.com

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GettysBLOG does not know if there are single article Pulitzer Prizes, but if there are, each of these three staffers from the Hartford Courant is deserving for their work on this one project. A news organization as old as the Courant certainly ought to know its business, and this set of articles and photographs certainly proves that point. The Courant is to be congratulated on their fine work.

Being a ‘casino town’, of sorts, the good people of the Hartford area, as represented by the Courant, certainly have the practical ground on which to take a stand on this issue. The amazing thing is that from several hundred miles away, a news organization can see the realities of the casino project in Gettysburg with a clarity that all of the Crossroads investors lack.

This is THE major point that the Crossroads people are missing. They do not look at Gettysburg as ‘America’s Town’, they look at Gettysburg as a market in which they can reap great profits. And the clincher is, that in doing so, they are destroying the very thing which they are counting on to make their money.

GettysBLOG

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!"
--GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.”

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