(Gettysburg, Pa.) – On the eve of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the American Civil War, a public opinion poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research reveals that Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly oppose plans for a casino ½ mile from the historic Gettysburg Battlefield. According to the poll, fully two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters actively oppose the idea of a casino at Gettysburg and nearly 60 percent favor pending legislation that would block future attempts at similar proposals. Further, 57 percent state that, if approved, such a Gettysburg casino would be an embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The independent poll was commissioned by the Civil War Trust, an historic land preservation group, which also opposed a similar, unsuccessful proposal to bring gambling to Gettysburg in 2006. The Trust has permanently protected more than 30,000 acres of hallowed ground nationwide, including 800 acres at Gettysburg.
“Despite attempts by casino investors to mask the true scope of public opposition to their plan, the people of Pennsylvania remain outraged by the idea of a Gettysburg casino,” said Civil War Trust president James Lighthizer.
The numbers reinforce Lighthizer’s remarks; opposition to a Gettysburg casino is strong throughout the Commonwealth, in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as well as elsewhere in the state. Opposition is most pronounced in Central and Western Pennsylvania, where nearly ¾ quarters of all voters (74 percent) expressed opposition for the casino proposal. Statewide, just 17 percent of Pennsylvanians indicated they support the idea of a Gettysburg casino.
The numbers also indicated that voters understand that Gettysburg is a unique economic engine for the Pennsylvania economy. “Eighty-eight percent of state voters, and nine out of ten of those who live near the battlefield, understand that Gettysburg is a priceless economic resource for the community and should not be jeopardized by such an ill-considered scheme,” said Lighthizer.
Although casino proponents have often and loudly declared that the majority of locals are eager for a casino in their midst, a separate, specific sampling of Adams County voters illustrates otherwise. The community is deeply divided on the issue, with 45 percent opposing the casino and only 41 percent supporting it. Opposition, however, is based on proximity to the battlefield rather than hostility toward gaming; were the chosen location further from the battlefield and national park, stated opposition falls to 35 percent of county voters.
“These findings illustrate No Casino Gettysburg’s position since the project was first announced,” said Susan Star Paddock, chair of the local opposition group. “Our objection is to the casino’s location — on the doorstep of the Gettysburg battlefield is simply no place for slots and table games.”
Investors with Mason-Dixon Gaming, a company unrelated to the nationally recognized polling firm, are among four groups seeking a license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to operate a Category 3 resort casino. If approved, their project would bring hundreds of slot machines and table games just ½ mile from the boundaries of Gettysburg National Military Park. The Gaming Board has recently announced it will make a licensing decision on April 14, 2011.
Since it was announced last year, the proposal has drawn immense opposition. Tens of thousands of Americans signed petitions against the project and nearly 300 prominent historians wrote to the gaming board, urging its rejection, as did the national leadership of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the American Legion. Other prominent Americans who lent their name to the campaign to protect Gettysburg include Susan Eisenhower, Emmy-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough, Medal of Honor recipient Paul W. Bucha, renowned composer John Williams and entertainers Matthew Broderick, Stephen Lang and Sam Waterston.
Mindy Crawford, executive director of Preservation Pennsylvania — a statewide preservation advocacy group — said that the poll demonstrates the high regard with which Pennsylvanians regard their historic treasures.
“The poll’s finding that 71 percent of voters statewide have a personal interest in history aligns with the outpouring of resistance I have seen to this proposal,” said Crawford. “And it’s more than just a passing interest — almost 40 percent of Pennsylvanians plan to visit at least one Civil War-related site during the conflict’s 150th anniversary commemoration.”
Aware of widespread opposition to the controversial proposal, Rep. Paul Clymer (R-Bucks County), a member of the Pennsylvania Gaming Oversight Committee, last month introduced House Bill 1179, which would amend the state’s Gaming Act to create a 10-mile buffer around Gettysburg national Military Park. Upon introduction, the legislation had gathered 23 bipartisan cosponsors from districts across the state.
“As both an elected official and a proud U.S. Army veteran, I believe it is my duty to stand up on behalf of my comrades in arms, even if their service occurred a century before mine, and do what I can to prevent the solemnity of the Gettysburg battlefield from being compromised,” said Clymer. “I certainly count myself among those who feel that allowing gaming so close to the bloodiest battlefield of the American Civil War would be a distraction from the true meaning of Gettysburg.”
Clymer said he was unsurprised by the strong support for his actions expressed in the poll; 59 percent of Pennsylvanians and 64 percent of central Pennsylvania voters expressed support for the bill. Ninety-four percent of respondents said elected officials like Clymer have a responsibility to protect the state’s significant historic resources, including Gettysburg.
Mason-Dixon Polling and Research is well known as one of the most credible and accurate independent polling firms in the nation. Mason-Dixon conducted the poll from April 4–6, 2011. For the statewide sampling, a total of 625 registered voters were interviewed by telephone, with an additional sample of 400 registered voters in Adams County. The margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points on statewide questions and +/- 5 percentage points for Adams County.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds through education and heritage tourism. To date, the Trust has preserved more than 30,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including 800 acres at Gettysburg. Learn more at www.civilwar.org.