Developers of proposed Adams County racino halt efforts to gain approval

FREEDOM TWP., Pa. - Developers in Adams County have decided to stop their work for a proposed harness racetrack and casino.

The decision came as a deadline passed Wednesday for interested parties to apply to the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission for a gaming license.

Developers of the proposed Mason-Dixon Downs cited ongoing debate by state lawmakers as the main reason they decided to stop their attempts to get state approval.

“I continue to believe that a gaming project would be tremendous for the local Adams County economy,” David LeVan, an Adams County businessman who led the effort for Mason-Dixon Downs, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding the gaming expansion legislation in Harrisburg makes it impossible for me to commit to this project at this time."

Some casino opponents find that to be a convenient excuse, arguing that the people of Freedom Township did not want a racino built in their community.

They went door-to-door over the last few months collecting signatures for a petition to put the topic to a referendum and shut down the proposal. About 300 signatures were collected, which is a little less than half of the registered voters in the township, according to Charles McElhose, a township resident, who claimed that of the 60 residents he spoke with, about 90 percent of them were against the project..

"The results from other people who went out and talked to their fellow neighbors were similar, so we know that there's a significant opposition within Freedom Township," Charles McElhose, a township resident, said.

Opponents of the casino have been fighting the proposal on and off since 2005, so there is a touch of caution in their optimism. LeVan attempted to have a casino built in the Gettysburg area twice before this latest attempt, and both times, he came up with a new proposal, they said.

"Several times we thought we had won the war when we've just won a battle, so hearing this news today, I figure this is just another battle," Susan Paddock, the chairperson of No Casino Gettysburg, said.

Even after the surrender was issued, opponents still wanted to push township supervisors for a referendum outlawing horse racing in the township. Supervisors agreed, voting on a resolution Wednesday to advance a referendum on the November ballot to the county elections board for approval.

"We really feel that the referendum is our opportunity for the township residents to have our voices heard and documented in a historical manner that we do not support the casino," Rebecca Kurnat Sheffer, a township resident, said. "We do not want it introduced to our community."

With Mason-Dixon Downs out of the running, it appears no local parties applied to the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission for the license.

It will still take some time for the horse racing commission to determine who has applied for the gaming license and which applications meet its criteria, according to commission spokeswoman Bonnie McCann.

If any are successful, the Gaming Control Board would also have to issue a casino license.