Daily Mail reporters, September 4, 2010:
The site of the Civil War’s tide-turning Battle of Gettysburg is the scene of a new battlefield – this time between developers who plan to build a casino and Hollywood campaigners opposed to the move.
The plans put forward by Harley Davidson dealer David LeVan wish to create 600 slot machines and 50 gaming tables in an existing hotel and conference centre half a mile from the battlefield.
But ‘Save Gettysburg’ organisers have enlisted the help of filmmaker Ken Burns, actors Sam Waterston and Matthew Broderick and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough to stop the plans. The group who include 60,000 signatories, say a casino would cheapen the reputation that draws tourists to the town and surrounding 6,000-acre park that mark the site where the battle took place.
Over 160,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought for three days in summer 1863 – with over 51,000 of them killed, wounded or captured in the bloodiest battle North America has ever seen.
Local residents suggest the casino’s approval would betray the country’s duty to protect the place where soldiers died to save the nation. A previous attempt by LeVan to win a Gettysburg-area casino license was rejected in 2006 amid local outcry.- the area already having several hamburger and fried chicken restaurants nearby.
The stars lending their names to the opposition effort have personal connections to the cause. Burns made the 1990 documentary ‘The Civil War,’ which featured Waterson as President Abraham Lincoln and McCullough’s narration; and Broderick – husband of Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker – starred in the 1989 film ‘Glory,’ about black Civil War soldiers.
Developer LeVan claims his ‘Mason Dixon Resort & Casino’ plans will mirror other successful sites in similar areas and states his new plans can bring tourists, investment and 400 jobs to the recession hit Gettysburg area. ‘Mason Dixon can empower the region and re-energize a struggling county by creating good jobs and new opportunities to attract tourists,’ LeVan told the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in a video presentation he introduced and narrated. ‘In doing so, we can lift the economy and the quality of life for our friends, neighbors and guests.’
The board, which is considering Mason Dixon’s application to build the casino, listened to comments from casino principals, supporters and opponents at an acrimonious public meeting near Gettysburg National Military Park. ‘No Casino Gettysburg’ campaigner Susan Starr Paddock begged gaming board members to stop the casino plans. ‘We are asking you to please deny this application, to make your legacy saving Gettysburg,’ More than 390 people were registered to speak, including a tall, white-bearded actor who came dressed as Gettysburg general Confederate Robert E. Lee.
The casino’s backers are already competing with three other groups for a state casino license. Pennsylvania-based casino operator Penn National Gaming Inc. would help finance and run Mason Dixon.
The $75 million plans are pitting resident against resident with signs reading ‘No Casino’ and ‘Pro Casino’ dotting windows throughout the quaint streets of Gettysburg, which attracts more than a million tourists each year for shopping, eating and accommodation.
LeVan, a former Conrail Inc. chairman and well-known local philanthropist and preservationist, lives across the street from the park’s museum and visitor centre.
Speaking to the gaming board, he said Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania’s last untapped gambling market – an hour from Baltimore and Washington – and has a lot in common with another casino site in Vicksburg, where the North won another important Civil War battle in 1863.
A video he presented to gaming board members showed how a casino in Vicksburg has tranformed the area from a struggling Civil War tourist town to one which attracts both tourists and investment in its streets, sewers and qualify of life in ten years.
However, opponents counter that casinos have drawn tourists away from downtown Vicksburg, bankrupting businesses and leaving empty storefronts, and challenged Mason Dixon’s revenue projections as unduly rosy and reliant on area residents of modest means.
n the battle itself, Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac stopped the northward advance by Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, helping deliver a victory to Union forces. Four months after the bloody victory, Abraham Lincoln gave the ‘Gettysburg Address’ – a speech regarded as one of the greatest in American history which detailed ‘a new birth of freedom’ and a chance for true equality for all its citizens.