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Pennsylvania

Gambling facility sought near Gettysburg battlefield for third time

| Friday, April 7, 2017, 2:27 p.m.
Former Conrail CEO David LeVan wants to build Mason-Dixon Downs, a racetrack and casino, on 700 acres in rural Freedom Township, Adams Countty, about 3 miles from the Gettysburg battlefield. / Submitted
Submitted
Former Conrail CEO David LeVan wants to build Mason-Dixon Downs, a racetrack and casino, on 700 acres in rural Freedom Township, Adams Countty, about 3 miles from the Gettysburg battlefield. / Submitted

A prominent Gettysburg businessman who made two unsuccessful bids to locate a casino near the historic Civil War battlefield is back with a third proposal.

This time, former Conrail CEO David LeVan wants a zoning change that would allow him to build Mason-Dixon Downs, a racetrack and casino, on 700 acres zoned for mixed use in rural Freedom Township, a little more than 3 miles from the battlefield. The township, which abuts the Maryland state line, is home to about 850 people.

LeVan, 71, owns Battlefield Harley-Davidson in Gettysburg. He first sought a license to operate a standalone casino in the area in 2005. A second bid for a casino resort license in 2012 also failed to get the green light from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

A racino license — for a casino at a harness racing track — became available last summer when the board rejected an application to license a racino near New Castle that businessmen and local officials in Western Pennsylvania had struggled to bring to fruition for more than a decade.

LeVan says it is his community's turn to reap the fruits of Pennsylvania's last remaining casino license.

“We have an opportunity to do something special here in Adams County,” LeVan said in a written statement unveiling his proposal this year.

He has yet to release a cost estimate for the proposed complex. Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach said casino development costs in Pennsylvania have ranged from $300 million to $900 million.

Proponents and opponents who squared off over LeVan's prior proposals are lining up again as his latest plan begins inching through preliminary approvals.

A Facebook page — Adams County for Jobs, Growth & Prosperity — boasts more than 300 members supporting the racino. Site administrator Meredith Catchings could not be reached for comment.

Susan Paddock, co-chair of No Casino Gettysburg, is rallying opponents.

“We intend to do everything we can to stop it,” she said.

Her group has more than 5,300 signatures on a petition asking Freedom Township, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission and the state Gaming Control Board to reject LeVan's plans. Paddock, who lives on a farm outside Gettysburg, said the group gathered 61,000 signatures on a petition to block LeVan's last casino proposal.

“Pennsylvania residents and the preservation community across the country are standing up for the hallowed ground at Gettysburg and the immense human sacrifice it represents when they sign the petition,” Paddock said.

LeVan said he considered such concerns and opted to site his proposed racino about 2.5 miles farther from town than his last casino proposal.

None of the proposed sites was within town limits of the borough of 7,600.

Adams County Planner Rob Thaeler said the new site is “about as far away from town as you can get and still have a Gettysburg postal address.”

Much has changed since LeVan first proposed building a casino on the outskirts of the historic town in 2005. Since then, 13 casinos have begun operating in the state.

“As we've already seen in Pennsylvania, gaming and Pennsylvania's rich historical heritage can co-exist quite nicely,” LeVan wrote. “There are casinos that are far closer to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge National Park and Fort Necessity National Battlefield. In each instance, casinos have promoted historical sites, brought jobs to those areas and attracted more visitors.”

LeVan also touted the potential revenue the rural township could expect from the racino.

He acknowledged that local fees have been in limbo since 2016, when the state Supreme Court struck down part of Pennsylvania's 2004 casino law that guaranteed host communities fees from casino owners. But LeVan wrote that new proposals — including one that would guarantee host communities a flat $10 million a year fee — are pending in the Legislature, which must act by May 24.

The Gettysburg Chamber of Commerce, which supported LeVan's previous proposals, has yet to take a stance on the racino.

“It's a little premature,” said chamber President Carrie Stuart. “And with the racetrack, there is a different aspect to consider. This will be something we review moving forward.”

The Freedom Township Planning Commission this week tabled action on a zoning amendment that would allow LeVan to move forward with his plans. Township officials will weigh the proposal again May 3.

If the amendment is approved, LeVan would have little more than a month to meet the Horse Racing Commission's June 14 deadline for applications for the racino track license. He must obtain that license before he can approach the Gaming Control Board for a license to operate a casino with slots and table games.

Although the Horse Racing Commission has yet to log any applicants for the track license, Department of Agriculture spokesman Will Nichols said the agency expects many applicants will compete for the license.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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