More Reasons Not to Build a Casino at Gettysburg

People should go to Gettysburg for history and solemn reflection, not gambling.

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I have written in this space about saving Gettysburg from becoming a third-rate Reno or Atlantic City. A developer wants the Pennsylvania gaming commission to give him a license to operate a casino on the fringes of the hallowed battlefield, and historians and local residents are marching to stop him.

Gov. Ed Rendell has joined the opposition. And so have Ken Burns and David McCullough and several actors, like Matthew Broderick and Sam Waterston. Some 300 historians, including James McPherson, Garry Wills, and the inestimable Edwin Bearss, have signed a letter asking the commission to block the casino.

The opponents of casino gambling have put together a moving two-minute film, in which several of these celebrated citizens read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I recommend it to you, regardless of how you feel about slot machines and cocktail waitresses. Watching Paul Bucha, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous bravery in Vietnam, take a turn at reading from Lincoln’s speech got my eyes misty.

The same cast also made a nine-minute video that I wrote about a couple of weeks back. It is now available, along with the Gettysburg Address clip, at the Web site of the Civil War Preservation Trust. The longer film talks with greater specificity about the issue of gambling at Gettysburg.

(For American, Civil War, and military history buffs, the Trust Web site is a joy unto itself. I can waste half a morning reading stories and playing with the maps there.)

A similar casino proposal has been stopped before. The danger is during hard economic times, the promise of jobs might carry the day.

It is pure folly. People go to Gettysburg for history and solemn reflection and (as anyone who has walked the battlefield knows) fresh air and exercise.

Granted, I am a patriotic extremist. I would have the Defense Department spend about $10 million a year over the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War, until all the endangered battlefield land in the United States is safe from development.

But for you economic libertarians out there, my side wins the free market argument too. If Gettysburg becomes a cheesy honky-tonk, tourists and tour groups and school kids will stay away, and the casino--with its parasitic business plan--will fail.

Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Without that gem of a battlefield, who goes to Gettysburg? What gambler wants to hang around a small town in central Pennsylvania when Atlantic City is so nearby, or for a few hundred bucks you could be on the Strip in Vegas?

I love Las Vegas. But what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas.

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