Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gettysburg Casino Hearings

On Wednesday, April 5, I had the privilege of testifying at the initial Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board hearing concerning the proposal to build a casino near the Gettysburg Battlefield. I left feeling cautiously upbeat after hearing a majority of presenters express their displeasure with the idea. Twenty-four hours later, that day's optimism became tainted with dismay as I both read and heard how the news media portrayed the proceedings. The straightforward hearing format allowed those seeking the casino license to testify first, followed by governmental officials, non-profit and private organizations, followed by individual citizens. I witnessed the entire hearing, took pages of notes, and heard each presenter.

Chance Enterprises and their CEO David Levan spoke first, stating their position that the casino would benefit the local economy, would not negatively impact the battlefield, and would not rest on any "hallowed ground". When they finished, various governmental representatives spoke with the numbers for and against the proposal about evenly distributed. The private and non-profit groups spoke next, all of whom voiced their strenuous objections to the proposal with the noted exception of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association. My surprise at their declaration of support faded somewhat as I heard talk that they allegedly had received significant contributions from Mr. Levan.

Of the 33 individuals who spoke, all area residents except two, 29 stated their opposition including a descendent of the family of Major General John Fulton Reynolds and one of Miles Standish. Groups who sent representative to this hearing who also objected to the proposal included:

The Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg
Concerned Citizens of Straban Township
No Casino Gettysburg
Gettysburg College Parents Advisory Board
The Civil War Club of Gettysburg College
Gettysburg College Faculty

The gentleman who spoke for the Gettysburg College Parents Advisory Board, currently numbering 62 parents, emphasized that the vote against the casino was not just by majority but unanimous.

Despite the above, thus far, both televised and print media concerning this hearing seem to imply or represent that those testifying presented an equivalent number of positions both in opposition and in support. I have seen no mention of the 60,000+ petition signatures offered by the Civil War Preservation Trust and the group No Casino Gettysburg which publicly document both local and national opposition. In the reports I have seen, the print and broadcast media mentioned views in support of the casino prior to noting any specific objections, if they noted any at all. At the risk of painting myself with cynicism, I can only guess that these media outlets, all local to Pennsylvania, seek the advertising revenue a casino might offer.

As for my testimony, below I include a copy of the text from which I read excluding the specific contact information I provided to the Board.

"I was born, raised, and still live in Pennsylvania. I visit Gettysburg frequently, have friends here, and had family who fought here.

On June 28, 1865, Union Major General George Gordon Meade said farewell to the Army of the Potomac. A man of comparatively few words, he would say to the survivors of this war, "It is unnecessary to enumerate here all that has occurred in these two eventful years, from the grand and decisive Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the war, to the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Suffice it to say that history will do you justice, a grateful country will honor the living, cherish and support the disabled, and sincerely mourn the dead."

It pains me to consider that this country may not be as grateful as it once was. Today we debate this plan by a few to exploit the name and sacrifice of Gettysburg for their own ends. Those who seek to build this casino would not do so at such a cherished site but for the millions who travel to Gettysburg every year to remember the men and women who gave so much for this country. A casino so close to the battlefield, the sacred grounds where our ancestors decided the fate of this nation, seeks only to profit from those who journey here to ponder and remember.

I wish now to state in the strongest possible terms that this cannot, this must not happen. The casino, if it sees the light of day, will scar the very fields we seek to protect.

But even without the increase in crime and costs to the community, building a casino near this battlefield remains as unconscionable a decision as building an amusement park at Pearl Harbor. The men who died here and their descendents deserve far better.

The great state of Pennsylvania along with people from all over this country will soon join in celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. We will proudly remember that, on those three fateful days, tens of thousands of Americans, including 35,000 Pennsylvanians, saved our nation. I say to you today, do not soil their memory by allowing this blatant exploitation of their sacrifice. We owe them. In those three days, thousands of men gave their lives that this nation, our nation, might live. Tens of thousands of others emerged from this conflict broken and shattered, their bodies no longer whole, their legacy forever written in blood in the book of honor.

Ladies and gentlemen of this board, how will we repay these men? Who speaks for the dead of Gettysburg?"



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1 comment:

GettysBLOG said...

Well said, Randy, with your usual eloquence.

You are spot on that the revenue hungry newspapers have crossed sides to support, or withhold opposition to the casinos.

My, what will they do when Act 71 is repealed early next year?