In his first interview since Adams County casino plans surfaced last year, Mason Dixon Resort & Casino co-principal Joseph Lashinger was adamant Wednesday regarding his part in the ownership of the $75 million project.
“I want Dave LeVan to take it over completely,” said Lashinger, who approached LeVan, a Gettysburg businessman, last summer to partner with him in the Cumberland Township project.
Lashinger, a former Penn National Gaming executive, is the majority owner in the Eisenhower Inn project, with 76.48 percent, while LeVan has 17.52 percent net ownership. However, Lashinger intends to transfer his share to LeVan, if the project is awarded a license by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board later this year, or in 2011.
“I wouldn’t have done this project if Dave LeVan would have said no to me,” continued Lashinger, 56, also a former Pennsylvania lawmaker. “He’s a guy that always seems to be doing the right thing. He has the same beliefs that I do in economic development, jobs and community involvement.”
“You can have a great project conceptually, but the local partner is what makes it happen,” said Lashinger.
Lashinger is no stranger to the Pennsylvania gaming industry. After serving as a state lawmaker for 14 years in Montgomery County near Philadelphia (1977-1990), Lashinger formed connections in the gaming industry.
His career began with Hollywood Casino, and later blossomed with Penn National Gaming in the 1990s, where he served as general counsel and vice president. Lashinger said he later served as founder and chief operator of the Chester Downs project in Delaware County, leading the $435 million project that transformed what he described as a derelict brownfield in Delaware County into what is now known as Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack.
“It was a project that many opponents said would never happen,” said Lashinger, adding that he “hopes to bring that track record” to the Gettysburg area, with the Mason Dixon proposal.
The project aims to transform the 307-room Eisenhower Hotel, south of Gettysburg, into a resort casino with 600 slot machines, and 50 table games. LeVan and Lashinger are seeking the state’s lone remaining Category Three “resort” casino license, and the state’s Gaming Control Board is holding a public hearing Aug. 31 at the Comfort Suites Hotel, in Cumberland Township, to weigh testimony.
Lashinger noted that the Eisenhower Inn, which he has an option to purchase with LeVan, is “one of the few hotels in the state that qualifies” for the gaming license, as hotels must exceed 275 rooms, and include resort amenities. No new structural construction is planned in the project.
The project is opposed by No Casino Gettysburg, historians and preservation organizations, mainly because of its half-mile proximity to the boundaries of Gettysburg Military Park.
“Five years from now, after we have the license and we’re operating, our opponents will say — wow, we were wrong,” said Lashinger. “We will compliment the tourism industry, and they will compliment us,” he added. “It’s happened everywhere else I’ve been.”
Lashinger explained that he “fully respects the opposition if they’re morally opposed to gaming, which is a large chunk in Gettysburg.” But he does not agree with arguments suggesting that the project will “change the culture” of the community.
“There is a casino in Philadelphia that is a lot closer to Independence Hall, the Constitution Center and Liberty Bell than we are to the battlefield. I’m just totally lost on that argument,” said Lashinger.
He disagreed with the “myth that casinos result in increased crime.
” Eight of the nine counties that are presently home to Pennsylvania casinos have reported no increase in crime since those facilities opened in the last five years. “The problem is that this industry has not done a good job in dispelling the myth,” said Lashinger. “The notion is just ridiculous about crime, along with prostitution,” he continued. “These stories are old, old Las Vegas and Atlantic City tales.” “There is no noticeable crime increase in communities that have casinos,” concluded Lashinger.
He described southern-Pennsylvania as the “largest untapped market in state gaming,” and stressed that Mason Dixon plans to “present that information” to the Gaming Control Board at upcoming hearings.
Lashinger said he’s known LeVan since his days with the State Legislature. LeVan previously served as CEO of Conrail in Philadelphia, and Lashinger worked on several transportation projects in that area. Although LeVan was unsuccessful in his first gaming venture — Crossroads Gaming Resort in Straban Township — Lashinger noted that “much has been learned” about the state gaming industry since then.
“In every community that I’ve been, these projects were welcomed and now compliment other existing assets in those areas,” said Lashinger. “I fully expect the same to happen here.”
Lashinger lives in south-Florida with his wife Julia. They have three children, ages 29, 27, and 11. He has lived in Florida for six years, although he lived in Pennsylvania his entire life before moving.