Proposed bill would block casinos near historic sites

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HARRISBURG -- The odds are against a state-licensed slots casino being built near the Gettysburg National Military Park, but state Rep. Paul Clymer, Civil War historians and other casino opponents aren't taking any chances.

Mr. Clymer, R-Bucks, has introduced a bill that would forbid any future casinos from being built within a 10-mile "buffer zone" around the famous Civil War battlefield -- or within such a buffer zone around a new federally sanctioned memorial park in Somerset County that honors the passengers on Flight 93 who fought for control of their hijacked plane on Sept. 11, 2001. Flight 93, which the hijackers were flying toward a target in Washington, D.C., crashed near Shanksville. "We must prevent a casino from being built within 10 miles of these very important historical places," Mr. Clymer told a House committee last week during a hearing on his House Bill 2082.

"Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War," he said. "It lasted for three intense days, from July 1-3, 1863, and after it ended, the Confederate army was in retreat back to the South. The courage and bravery of those men, on both sides, is a legacy that should not be compromised by putting a gambling casino near the military park, or near the site of the Flight 93 memorial."

At the hearing was a group from No Casino Gettysburg, which helped defeat a developer's attempts to build a casino north of the battlefield in 2006 and then another plan for a casino south of the battlefield in 2010.

Casino developers, backed by many Adams County residents and business owners, had hoped to get state approval in 2010 for a Category 3, or resort hotel casino, inside an existing hotel/conference center five miles south of the center of the town of Gettysburg. But the state Gaming Control Board gave the license to Nemacolin Woodlands resort in Fayette County. It hasn't opened yet because Gettysburg casino proponents are challenging the license decision in court.

The first resort casino license was awarded to the Valley Forge Convention Center, just about a mile from the famous Valley Forge area west of Philadelphia, where George Washington encamped during the Revolutionary War. But that park hasn't been designated as a historic site by Congress, as the Gettysburg battlefield and the Flight 93 sites have been.

The Valley Forge casino license also was challenged in court but that case was thrown out, and the casino is due to open in June. A third resort casino license will be awarded in 2017.

Favoring the buffer-zone bill last week were Paul Bucha, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient speaking for the National Civil War Trust, and Mindy Crawford, executive director of Preservation Pennsylvania.

"As a combat veteran, Gettysburg matters a great deal to me," Mr. Bucha said. "All around Gettysburg is, I think, perhaps the most hallowed ground in the U.S. Visiting Gettysburg is like walking into a huge cathedral consecrated with the blood of our ancestors. ... It's not a place for games or a place for someone to try to make a buck."

Ms. Crawford said her group got "an overwhelmingly large outpouring of calls, emails and letters asking us to help keep a casino license from being awarded" near the two locations.

But some Adams County officials oppose the Clymer bill, saying a casino would bring 1,000 new jobs and boost the county's struggling economy. "As a lifelong resident of Adams County and Gettysburg, I am appalled that a lawmaker from Bucks County would try to deprive our area of desperately needed job creation and economic development," said Thomas Gilbert of the Adams County Pro-Growth Initiative.

He said he lives on land near where the first day of the historic battle was fought. "I am a business owner in Gettysburg and do pay taxes. This misguided bill should die with this committee. It is unconstitutional and an affront to our state laws to draw a line around our area to exclude a legal business."

The three Adams County commissioners also have problems with the bill, which they said would "have a significant potential to adversely impact the county economy." They called the 10-mile buffer zone "irrational," adding it would stretch "well beyond the Mason-Dixon line, into Maryland."

The committee hasn't said when it will vote on whether to send the bill to the full House for action.


Tom Barnes: hickeybarnes@yahoo.com or 717-623-1238.


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