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 Posted: Thu Sep 2nd, 2010 07:09 pm
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Michael F. Blake
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Casino hearing closes

by Scott Andrew Pitzer and Mark Walters, Gettysburg Times, Sept. 2, 2010

Public testimony on the proposed Mason Dixon Resort & Casino concluded Wednesday at the Comfort Suites in Cumberland Township, with the chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board thanking the 350-plus participants for their "exemplary" behavior over the two-day hearing.

"Whether you were pro or con, you did what makes this country great, and that’s to come here and voice your opinions to us, in the quasi-judicial process," GCB Chairman Gregory C. Fajt told the crowd, which spoke 2-to-1 in favor of the project.

"We have a very difficult decision to make," said Fajt. "I have no idea how that decision will come out." "I assure you it will be well-reasoned, (based) on evidence, and devoid of any outside influence," finished Fajt.

Two state lawmakers, five area governments, 28 community groups and 350 individuals tried to convince state gambling regulators Tuesday and Wednesday, why they should approve or deny the proposed Mason Dixon Resort. The project is planned by Gettysburg businessman David LeVan and former Penn National Gaming executive Joseph Lashinger, as they aim to convert the existing Eisenhower Inn along Business 15 into a resort casino, with up to 600 slot machines and 50 table games.

Unlike the 12-hours of testimony Tuesday, when the 200-seat room was packed and people could not get inside, there was no difficulty finding a chair Wednesday morning, for the conclusion of the hearing. According to officials, registered speakers supporting the $75 million casino outnumbered opponents by two to one. Also, numerous government agencies supported the project Tuesday, in earlier testimony, with an overall two-thirds support from registered speakers.

The second day of testimony moved along quickly, with voluntary consolidation by registered "pro" speakers. Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach explained that 391 individuals registered for the hearing, although only 256 people signed-in at the hotel. "My understanding is that approximately 125 individuals completed affidavits and were represented," said Harbach, adding that "all of those were on the pro-casino side."

The hearing was expanded into two days, to accommodate the largest public input session on a casino project, since state lawmakers legalized gambling six years ago.

"It was helpful to move the process along, to have like-minded people with similar ideas group together. The consolidation didn’t cause any deteriorating of the testimonies," Harbach said following three hours of testimony Wednesday.

No Casino Gettysburg spokeswoman Susan Star Paddock reported that 109 individuals spoke in opposition to the project, as well as 20 community groups, such as regional and national preservation organizations, and local churches. She did acknowledge that the count was "unofficial." Once again, project opponents cited morality, religion and battlefield concerns, as the 300-room Eisenhower Inn is located within a half-mile of the boundaries of the 6,000-acre Gettysburg National Military Park.

"There’s crime, there’s prostitution, there’s traffic," said Horse Soldier operator Pat Small, of Cumberland Township.

Kentucky resident Mary Eisenhower Mery questioned what soldiers from the Union and Confederate armies that fought here in 1863 would think of the project.

"Will we be the ones that dishonor them by allowing a casino?" she asked.

But project supporters countered that the hotel site is located outside of park boundaries, that the property was developed 40 years ago and the site is zoned for commercial development.

"I hope you can see through all the smoke and mirrors of the opposition," Links at Gettysburg developer Rick Klein told four members of the seven-person Gaming Control Board. "Let’s be honest, the religious views I’ve heard over the past two days should apply to every license you’ve given."

Mount Joy Township resident Kathy Williams told gambling regulators that she was speaking on behalf of minorities in supporting the project.

"Downtown is dying, and the rest of Gettysburg is going to die too without a casino," said Williams. Supporters also spoke of job potential, as LeVan and Lashinger have promised to retain the hotel’s existing 100 staffers, and create 375 new casino positions.

The property, along Business 15 about three miles north of Maryland, is home to recreational and residential development. No new construction is proposed as part of the casino project, although extensive renovations are planned to the 72,000 square-foot All Star Sports Complex, which would house the gaming facility. The National Park Service has adopted a position that the project has "no direct impact" on the park.

Six years after state lawmakers legalized three categories of gambling, there are still no resort casinos (Category Three) open in Pennsylvania. The licenses are awarded to existing hotels, with resort amenities, such as the Eisenhower Inn.

LeVan and Lashinger are competing with three other applicants for the license: groups in the Poconos, western Pennsylvania, and Harrisburg. They sat in the front row Wednesday, absorbed the testimony, and did not speak. Four members of the seven-member Gaming Control Board attended Wednesday’s hearing: Chairman Fajt, Kenneth McCabe, James Ginty, and Gary Sojka. The board is holding hearings over the next two weeks on all four applicants, and is expected to award the resort license later this year.

Copyright 2010

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