In southern Pennsylvania, the site of the great battle at Gettysburg is just about as hollowed ground as it gets in the US. But just within earshot of musket guns re-enacting that Civil War turning point is another conflict already creating stark divisions.
Local businessmen have proposed building a casino three kilometers from the battlefield to help ignite a dire night life and social scene. But the mere mention of gambling near such revered soil, which is in fact a national park, is getting residents pretty heated up. “The idea of putting a gambling emporium next to one of America’s sacred sites is ludicrous,” says local Jim Lighthizer. Another said, “We want people to come to Gettysburg for what is there: their heritage, their history, not to come and put money in a slot machine.”
More than two million people visit Gettysburg each year from all over the world and while some arrive to quench a thirst for Civil War history and early American splendor, others want to be entertained in different ways. So businesses want to capitalize on that portion of the yearly influx to help the region prosper, and building a casino might just do that.
“You have to have the entertainment value,” says local Bill Synnamon. “Gettysburg, after nine o’clock, if you don’t go have a beer, you’re done. There’s absolutely nothing in town for those people.”
David LeVan heads a group of investors petitioning for the casino. He says he didn’t expect such vociferous resistance to the idea, which he believes will bolster the local economy by bringing in more money and jobs to Gettysburg. “I thought the positive economic benefits warranted taking it on,” he says. “But I certainly regret how divisive this issue has become to the community.”
Even if gambling is now legal in Pennsylvania, it hasn’t done much to budge the opposition to the Gettysburg casino plan. Tourists are also rallying to preserve the historical significance of the area.
A bill currently in the Pennsylvania legislature has stymied the casino’s construction. But with the state senate adjourned for the summer, it’s only a matter of time until the cease-fire ends.