WELCOME TO THE Gamble AT GETTYSBURG

Article excerpt

ROLLING THE DICE AGAINST GAMBLING

REQUESTS STILL ARRIVE for Distinguished Professor Earl Grinols to comment on the costs and benefits of casino gambling to legislative bodies and businesses, but the frequency varies.

Some are more colorful than others, such as a recent entreaty from a grass-roots group trying to block an attempt to put a casino near the Civil War battleground in Gettysburg, Pa.

Before the controversy ended in December 2006, the battle pitted citizens against each other in an apparent fight for what Gettysburg would become: The new address of a glittering casino promising lavish construction and more jobs, or a family-friendly village laden with history and tradition.

The events in Gettysburg unfolded in spring 2005 when Crossroads Gaming Resort & Spa proposed a slots-only gambling venue near Gettysburg's battlefield, amidst a population of less than 10,000 in south-central Pennsylvania. The village is well-known for many reasons; in addition to historical reenactments of battle and tours of the battle site, Gettysburg beckons visitors with museums, colleges, and diverse local and state culture.

It's most famous, however, for the July 1-3, 1863, Battle of Gettysburg. Desiring to lure battlefield tourists, the casino proposal included pledges of jobs, hotel rooms, and money for both cash-strapped public services and private citizens, coming in the form of wages and increased business. In short, said the promoters, the new casino would provide economic development.

However, not everyone wanted the development so near the Gettysburg battlefield. "Locals did not like the idea, both for the local aesthetics and because they felt it was disrespectful of the battlefield," Grinols says. They organized quickly. According to the Web site for the group No Casino Gettysburg (nocasinogettysburg.com), "The opposition to the casino idea began the day Crossroads announced its intentions... The group held public meetings, seminars, and a candlelight vigil...They met with various local officials where the casino proposal was to be discussed, producing voluminous research on economic impact."

But facing arguments about the economic benefits that the casino promoters offered, opponents knew they needed to do more than argue that a casino wasn't the right fit for Gettysburg, Grinols says. "They came to me and said, 'We need to say more than this.'" Working on other projects and strapped for precious time, Grinols directed them to his book.

Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits (Cambridge University Press, 2004), offers analyses that can make a lasting impression on those with a mind for business, says Keith Miller, who used the book to help produce a 139-page cost benefit analysis of the Gettysburg casino proposal. Grinols' vast research on the economics of casinos is rare. Miller says, which makes it all the more valuable.

A member of the Civil War Preservation Trust who was already working on a Gettysburg project. Miller hadn't heard of Grinols' research before he started his unpaid consulting work focused on the Gettysburg casino. He had no trouble finding it. "You know, it doesn't pay to tilt at windmills," Miller notes. "There are no books written on 'How do you make money not getting a casino?' It's not like you had to look at 24 different sources to find something. Earl is about it. He has done some very interesting work."

Grinols' years of research into the social costs and benefits of casino gambling is strengthened by his economist's eye. As a senior economist for the Council of Economic Advisers to President Reagan in 1987-88, he tackled casino gambling in the '90s by recommending to Congress the formation of a commission to study gambling's impact.

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission was established in 1996 and issued a report in 1999 recommending a moratorium on certain types of gambling expansion, including casinos. …