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Gettsyburg in war over proposed casino near battlefield

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- The town where the Civil War's tide-turning battle was waged is fighting dissension in its own ranks, with even hard-core preservationists split over a proposed casino that would rise near the historic battlefield and be named for the line that divided North and South.

It's the second time in five years that Gettysburg has fought over a plan to build a casino. This time it's the Mason Dixon Resort & Casino, proposed on a hotel and conference center site within a mile of the southern boundary of Gettysburg National Military Park.

''No Casino'' and ''Pro Casino'' signs pepper shop windows in the quaint streets of Gettysburg, where more than a million tourists shop, dine or sleep each year.

Supporters say the casino plan doesn't tread on hallowed ground and will bring jobs, more tourists and tax relief to the area. But the potential that a casino will cheapen the wholesome reputation that draws tourists to Gettysburg, where 160,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought a three-day battle in the summer of 1863, is what worries many.

''It seems like a lot of people, they just want more business, they want more money to flow in the community at any cost, and that's really upsetting,'' said Barbara Schultz, a Gettysburg native and casino opponent who owns a bed and breakfast and art gallery.

Casino principals, supporters and opponents will speak at a public meeting today with state regulators who are considering the license application to build the casino.

The developer, David LeVan, is a noted local philanthropist and former Conrail Inc. chairman who lives across the street from the park's museum and visitors center. He has helped renovate the town's historic Majestic theater and donated family land to help preservation efforts.

He declined to comment last Tuesday through a spokesman, David La Torre, who pointed out that the area around the nearly 6,000-acre park is already saturated with hotels, fast-food restaurants and big-box stores.