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Residents fight casino with a referendum

Danielle Ryan

(5/11) Residents of Freedom Township and "No Casino" supporters rallied together on May 6 to speak about a possible referendum to stop the proposed Mason-Dixon Downs from coming to Freedom Township. Upwards of 75 members of the community attended the rally to voice their concerns with the proposed racino.

Opposition stems from local businessman David LeVanís $300 million proposed Mason-Dixon Downs casino/racetrack, to be located in the heart of the rural community of Freedom Township. The proposed location for the racino is on Emmitsburg Road, less than a mile from U.S. Route 15 and the Maryland line. Those in support of the racino continue to push for the economic growth they would hope to see come from the presence of Mason-Dixon Downs. Those against, strongly oppose the culture that tends to come along with casinos and have concerns for safety within the community, concerns with upkeep and maintenance of the roads to be used and hindrance of the integrity of the rural nature of the township.

During the May 3 Planning Commission meeting, resident Rebecca Kernat asked the Commission to make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to vote for a referendum in Freedom Township to prohibit the racetrack/casino. The "No Casino" group started a campaign where they went door-to-door collecting signatures from those opposed to the installation of a racino, and the culmination of the campaign occurred on the 6th with a rally against Mason-Dixon Downs. Freedom Planning Commission members said a ballot referendum has never been used in Freedom Township.

Kernat said that in the state of PA, a referendum may be issued to prohibit a racetrack if there is an existent racetrack within 50 air miles of the proposed facility. "This may be the best way to see what citizens want," said Kernat. The referendum may be placed on a ballot by a resolution of the Board of Supervisors once they receive a petition representing at least 25% of those who attended the last political election. By the "No Casino" groupís calculations, they only needed 47 names on the petition.

The Board of Supervisors was presented two separate petitions during their May 10 meeting. The first petition included 276 signatures collected over the course of a few weekends, and a second petition with 120 names was collected in just four days. All names collected were those of registered voters in the township. The Board of Supervisors will provide the information presented, including the references, petitions and related information to the Township Solicitor and will take action on the proposed referendum during the June meeting.

Regardless of the referendum, LeVan is still early in the process, and doesnít intend on stopping anytime soon. For the past three months, LeVan and his team have been in the process of asking for a text amendment to the current zoning ordinance in order to allow for the racino facility to be built on a mixed-use zoned property. LeVanís team presented the Planning Commission with the third revised copy of the text amendment, and intends on presenting the finalized version for review during the June Planning Commission meeting.

The application to the Horse Racing Commission for the harness racing license is due June 14. However, the possibility of a referendum wonít slow the racino project from proceeding, said George Broseman, an attorney representing the project. LeVan must convince the State Horse Racing Commission that the project is worthy of Pennsylvania's last remaining casino license, which must be paired with a horseracing track. As LeVan stated, the harness racing license is conditional, meaning that he needs to be approved for the horseracing license before he can apply for a casino license. If he receives the horseracing license, LeVan will move on to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for final consideration of a casino license.

The referendum may appear on the November ballot for Freedom Township residents to weigh in on their opinion on the racino, but for now, LeVan intends on submitting the application for the racetrack license. If the township does not make a decision about the zoning laws by the time the license application is due, Mason Dixon Downs will write the pending status of that decision into the application, Broseman said.

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