Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Gettysburg Casino: $60 Million & our Heritage Lost

The Philadelphia Inquirer printed the following on July 3, 2006.

Casino on battlefield would be a loss for all

By Jim Lighthizer and Tom Kiernan

In a high-stakes operation like a casino, there are always winners and losers. Build a casino at Gettysburg, and there would be one winner - the owner - while the losers would be too numerous to count.

Chance Enterprises, the investment group behind the proposed Crossroads Gaming Resort & Spa, wants to build a 3,000-slot casino one mile from the edge of the Gettysburg National Military Park. Casino officials tout the jobs and economic benefits the facility would provide, but these claims are overstated.

With about 1.7 million visitors annually, and with visitation growing steadily, Gettysburg is one of the top tourist destinations in Pennsylvania. Known for its quaint charm, downtown shops and restaurants, and, of course, the battlefield, Gettysburg is a pleasant, family-friendly place to visit. A casino would seriously detract from that enduring appeal.

In addition to conflicting with the historic character of a beloved national battlefield, the casino would divert a whopping $60 million from local businesses, according to a recent economic assessment by the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT). The region's thriving heritage tourism industry, the quality of life for local residents, and the historic and natural resources that make Gettysburg a national icon would all suffer.

National parks are some of our nation's most endangered, irreplaceable resources - Civil War battlefields no less so than wild places such as Yellowstone or the Everglades. Sadly, due to their locations near growing population centers, many battlefields are especially vulnerable to inappropriate development. Today, the same landscapes upon which our nation was formed and tested are being consumed by fast-food restaurants, strip malls, and other forms of suburban sprawl. Nearly 20 percent of our historic Civil War battlefields already have been paved over.

When the Crossroads casino was first proposed, our primary concern was that it would damage the countryside that gives the Gettysburg battlefield meaning and character, and encourage more of the growth that is eating away at the park's edges. What has since been revealed is just how devastating the casino would be to the economy of the Gettysburg region.

During the April 7 hearing before the Gaming Control Board, economist Michael Siegel, who prepared an economic assessment of the casinos for the CWPT, seriously undermined the rosy picture investors have predicted for Gettysburg. Siegel testified that Gettysburg is one of the areas in Pennsylvania that would be most vulnerable to the adverse effects of a large casino.

His report takes issue with Chance Enterprises' reliance on Vicksburg, Miss. - a gambling hot spot with a Civil War past - as a positive model of how a casino might affect Gettysburg. In fact, in 1994, after the first year the casinos were open, visitation to Vicksburg National Military Park fell 21 percent. Since then, visitation rates have struggled back to pre-casino levels. Before the casinos opened, Vicksburg's visitation had been growing at about 5 percent a year.

In Warren County, where Vicksburg is situated, nonmanufacturing wage and salary employment fell by several hundred jobs following the opening of four casinos. There was a slight increase after 1997, but another decline in 2000. These jobs and visitation figures strongly suggest that tens of millions of dollars of economic activity were diverted from Vicksburg-area businesses to its casinos.

Like casinos, Civil War battles always had their winners and losers, but ultimately all Americans won. Our nation's founding principles of democracy and freedom were strengthened, and it is a blessing that we can still share those battlefields with our children. Yet, if this casino goes forward, we all stand to lose.

Jim Lighthizer is president of the Civil War Preservation Trust. Tom Kiernan is president of the National Parks Conservation Association. Contact the writers at jlighthizer@civilwar.org and tkiernan@npca.org.



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