Victory at Gettysburg

Pennsylvania says “no” to casino near battlefields.

By Amy Leinbach Marquis

Almost 150 years after the Civil War raged in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a new battle flared up when developers proposed opening a casino a half-mile from the national military park’s sacred, historic grounds. Thankfully this April, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board denied the builders’ application, granting a casino license to a developer in the southwest part of the state instead.

“There’s no doubt that the widespread public opposition—including a letter signed by 275 prominent historians, almost 15,000 letters of opposition from NPCA members and supporters, and a petition signed by more than 30,000 Americans—weighed heavily in the board’s decision,” says Cinda Waldbuesser, senior program manager for NPCA’s Pennsylvania field office.

This marks the second successful attempt to ward off a casino proposal in Gettysburg since 2006—and this time, park advocates hope to squash any future proposals while they’re at it. State Representative Paul Clymer has introduced a bill that would prohibit a casino within 10 miles of Gettysburg National Military Park.

“Anytime you walk through this town and its battlefields, you see families and people who are clearly there to learn about the Civil War and its aftermath,” Waldbuesser says. “It’s a very different atmosphere from what you would experience in a gaming town. A casino just doesn’t fit in a place where you can still step back and imagine what it was like 150 years ago.”

The decision makes sense not only on a preservation level, but economically, too. Park Service data show that in 2009, park visitors spent more than $61 million at local businesses and supported almost 1,000 local jobs in Gettysburg. And it appears more locals appreciate that now.

“Since the two casino proposals came along, there is an even stronger group of committed advocates looking out for Gettysburg’s future,” Waldbuesser says. “I hope that in similar situations around the country—whether it’s a casino or some other inappropriate development—decision makers will look to this as an example of how to listen to public outcry and do the right thing.”

Amy Leinbach Marquis is National Parks’ associate editor.

This article appears in the Summer 2011 issue.

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