Written by Walter W. Gallas
The decision by Walmart to abandon its plans for a new Supercenter on a portion of Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County, Virginia, is one of those preservation success stories we celebrate enthusiastically because it confirms that all of the hard work was worth it, and it spurs us on to keep the faith in other protracted battles. Gettysburg comes to mind.
The campaign in the past year to oppose the proposal to open the Mason-Dixon Resort and Casino one-half mile from the boundary of the Gettysburg National Military Park—and on land which clearly saw troop movement during that fateful battle in July 1863—was expected to culminate on December 16 with a decision by Pennsylvania’s Gaming Control Board assigning the state’s remaining resort gaming license to one of four applicants. The decision was delayed, with an announcement that more deliberations were necessary, bumping the Gettysburg decision to the January 6 meeting.
The Gaming Control Board reported before the January 6 meeting that it was unable to reach a decision that met the state’s requirement, releasing a statement saying the casino vote would not be on the agenda, but that board members “continue to evaluate the proposals, reviewing and weighing the substantial evidence…along with the public testimony in an attempt to achieve the qualified majority vote that is required to license one of these projects.” The four legislatively appointed members, and one of the gubernatorially-appointed members on the seven-member board must concur for the license to be awarded to one of the applicants.
The day before the next board meeting, which was scheduled for January 26, the board announced that it was putting off the decision again.
Between the two January board meetings, Pennsylvania inaugurated a new governor, Republican Tom Corbett, and seated a legislature with both chambers holding a Republican majority. Out-going Democratic Governor Ed Rendell had presided over the introduction of casino gambling into the state.
For many who had been operating at full bore to beat back the Gettysburg proposal for the second time in five years, these developments have been frustrating.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that two of the board’s legislative appointees reached their term limits on January 18, the governor’s inauguration day. One is a Democratic seat; the other is Republican. A second Democratic legislative appointee needs his continued service to be confirmed by the legislature. In any case, gaming control board members serve until their replacement is appointed, so the existing board can continue to function and deliberate. If new appointees are seated, however, more delay will occur since new members will need to acquaint themselves with the voluminous evidence brought forward by the casino applicants over the past several months.
Governor Rendell made it clear during the first Gettysburg casino battle and again during this one, that putting a casino in Gettysburg was the equivalent of putting one next to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia—and by that he meant it was a bad thing. Governor Rendell is gone now, but his legacy lives on in the machinations of casino applicants, the maneuvering of elected officials as they populate the Gaming Control Board, and in the anticipation of preservation advocates as they await a decision that could be as momentous and wonderful as the announcement at Wilderness Battlefield.
The next meeting of the Gaming Control Board is scheduled for February 10.
Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the Northeast Field Office at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.