The Adams County businessman announced plans in January to open a harness racing track and casino in Freedom Township, Adams County, about 3 miles from the border of Gettysburg National Military Park. But after several months of media appearances and meetings with local officials, he decided to pull the plug on the plans.
“Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding the gaming expansion legislation in Harrisburg makes it impossible for me to commit to this project at this time,” LeVan said in a written statement Wednesday.
To open the casino under current state law, LeVan would have needed to apply for the state’s lone remaining Category 1 casino license. That license allows for a combination racetrack/casino with up to 250 table games and 5,000 slot machines.
Pennsylvania’s gambling laws, however, sit in a state of uncertainty. The state House passed a bill just last week that would greatly expand gambling in Pennsylvania.
LeVan did not elaborate on specific concerns about the legislation. La Torre Communications, the Harrisburg firm that released his announcement, declined to comment beyond LeVan’s written statement.
LeVan is a former Conrail Inc. chairman and owner of Battlefield Harley-Davidson near Gettysburg. He tried twice before – in 2005 and 2010 – to open a casino in the Gettysburg area but was never able to see the plans to fruition.
Community reaction to the proposals has been mixed. No Casino Gettysburg, a group led by Adams County residents Susan and Jim Paddock, has rallied local and national opposition to each of LeVan’s attempts out of concern for preserving the historic nature of the Gettysburg area. Two Adams County economic development groups, however, supported his most recent proposal because of their potential to bring jobs and revenue to the area.
The Paddocks are skeptical of the reasoning LeVan gave for not applying for the state license, they said when reached by phone Wednesday. They wonder if the decision was related instead to a referendum they had lobbied to place on Freedom Township’s local ballot in the upcoming November election.
That referendum would have asked residents of the roughly 830-person municipality whether they wanted to allow horse racing in the township. A “no” vote would, in effect, be a vote against LeVan’s proposed casino.
The Paddocks believe residents would overwhelmingly vote no.
Community groups that promote business in Adams County, where agriculture and Civil War tourism drive large portions of the economy, had backed LeVan’s project. LeVan specifically thanked the Adams County Economic Development Corporation and Gettysburg Adams Chamber of Commerce for their support.
“We were thinking that this would be the time that would work for him,” said Carrie Stuart, chamber president. “I feel for him. I wish it would have had a different outcome, but he certainly would know best.”
The chamber, Stuart said, had been hopeful of the potential economic impact the project could have on the region.
Stuart feels LeVan had taken specific care in his most recent proposal to avoid areas of the county with close ties to the region’s Civil War history. The No Casino group has contended otherwise, saying they want at least a 10-mile buffer between any casino and Gettysburg National Military Park.
“It’s like putting a neon frame around the Mona Lisa. It’s just completely inappropriate,” Susan Paddock said.
The Paddocks plan to continue opposing the product if LeVan ever makes a fourth attempt.
“No Casino Gettysburg would like to tell Mr. LeVan that if he’s hoping to later reapply for the casino itself, without the racetrack, for that site or any other site close to Gettysburg, he will continue to meet local, state and national opposition,” Susan Paddock said. “And his dream of having a casino near Gettysburg is a dream that he really ought to just give up.”
“I continue to believe that a gaming project would be tremendous for the local Adams County economy, create thousands of jobs, and provide desperately needed funding for countless municipal and community projects. However, I’ve decided against submitting an application. Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding the gaming expansion legislation in Harrisburg makes it impossible for me to commit to this project at this time. I would like to thank the Adams County Economic Development Corporation and Gettysburg Adams Chamber of Commerce for endorsing our project. Most importantly, I want to thank my countless friends, supporters and volunteers for all of their efforts. I regret not being able to help my hometown achieve the unquestioned economic benefits gaming would provide at a time when jobs are scarce.”