GETTYSBURG - After two days of impassioned testimony, the state Gaming Control Board on Wednesday wrapped up a public hearing on whether to open a casino near the historic Gettysburg battlefield.
Developer David LeVan, a longtime Adams County resident and onetime Conrail Inc. chairman, has proposed putting a casino in an existing hotel and conference center a half-mile from the boundary of Gettysburg National Military Park and two miles from the Mason-Dixon Line.
Just shy of 400 people, from preservationists and historians to veterans and farmers, had registered to speak about the proposal. In the end, 256 people signed up to speak - or to have someone speak on their behalf - during the two-day hearing, according to officials with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Their testimony focused the public spotlight on how deeply the issue has divided the community.
Many residents believe a casino would rejuvenate the area's recession-ravaged economy. Many others consider it tasteless and a sign of disrespect for the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers who fought there over three days in the summer of 1863.
"Gambling, whether we like it or not, carries with it connotations that are not consistent with the dignity and solemnity of Gettysburg's history," said David Crowner, a retired Gettysburg College professor who testified Wednesday.
But Dauphin County resident Jay Purdy countered that gambling has "always been more or less prevalent in armies . . . to break the tedium."
Some soldiers, he said, even picked lice from their bodies, put them on a plate, and placed bets on which would find the edge first.
"They were heroes," Purdy said of the soldiers, "but they weren't saints."
LeVan, a businessman who lives across from the park's visitor center and who has invested $4 million in the Gettysburg battlefield and other local preservation projects, was turned down by the gaming board in 2006 when he tried to build a larger casino near the battlefield.
This time, he and other investors are competing against three other bidders to snag the last of the state's two resort licenses. Those licenses allow 600 slot machines - as opposed to 3,000 at larger casinos - and 50 table games.
The gaming board is expected to make a decision before the end of the year.
After the hearing Wednesday, LeVan said that he was pleased with the number of people who showed up to support his proposal and that he believed reports of how a casino would polarize the community were "overstated."
"We heard that in 2005 and 2006 . . . but when the decision was made then, I moved on," he said. "There were no hard feelings as a consequence. I remained active in the community, and I think the same thing will happen this time."