Gov’t won’t take initiative on casino

The China Post staff

Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien said yesterday the government will not take the initiative to build a casino on the outlying islands. But Yu extended support for the result of a referendum held on Penghu Saturday. The referendum result came out in favor of establishing a special gambling zone on the outlying islands in order to boost tourism. The referendum, organized by a self-help group on Penghu, showed that around 80 percent of residents on the outlying chain of islands favor a gambling industry.

While the government will not take the lead in pushing for a legislation legalizing the gambling industry, it has extended tacit support for a “bottom-up” approach, with a referendum being just the first step, lawmakers said.

That means the government will provide support for the relevant legislation but it must be proposed by local governments.

Yu said he will support the referendum’s result.

Lin Ping-ken, a lawmaker from Penghu, said a bill to revise the law governing development of the outlying islands, the second such attempt made by the lawmakers, has been submitted to the interior committee of the legislature.

If the legislature approves the bill, the government will undertake whatever policies are needed to implement the new law, said Yu. Lin said the referendum’s result has clearly expressed what the people of Penghu desire.

A bill aimed at introducing casinos to Taiwan’s offshore islands failed the pass during the previous legislative session.

In October last year, the finance committee and the home committee of the Legislature passed draft amendments to the Offshore Islands Development Act including a clause regarding the establishment of casinos. In fact, the introduction of casinos in special areas was first publicly discussed in 1988. Advocates said at that time casinos could boost tourism and stimulate the economy of remote areas, creating more tax revenue. But opponents have focused on issues such as public order or morality. Earlier this year, the Taiwan Association of University Professors made clear its opposition to legalize the gambling industry. It said bringing gambling to the offshore islands will have a serious negative social impact and will have severe repercussions.

While formulating the Offshore Islands Development Act in 1998, the Cabinet decided not to include articles concerning legalized gambling. The Council for Economic Planning and Development said in a report in late 2000 that while it is up to the Cabinet to decide on the policy, the possible negative impact on a society should be taken seriously. The report said examples in other countries show that gambling businesses often use lawful activities to cover up illegal deals such as drug trafficking, illegal immigrant smuggling, prostitution and money laundering. Currently, a lot of people from Taiwan and mainland Chinese, where gambling is still illegal, are high rollers in Macau’s casinos. According to Macau tourism statistics, the number of visitors from Taiwan has doubled annually over the past few years.