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Commercial Times: Nothing ready for Matsu casino plan except votes

2012/07/10 18:17:44

Residents of the outlying island of Matsu have just passed a referendum in favor of a casino resort project on the island.

Some argue that the island, which lies just off the Chinese port of Fuzhou "lacks water and electricity, has unpleasant weather and inconvenient transport" and that it will be impossible to realize the dream of building another Singapore- or Macau-type resort project there.

We believe human effort is also a deciding factor on whether Matsu can become a test case for Taiwan's gambling industry.

Sentosa was merely a fishing village in Singapore back in the 19th century. During World War II, it was a British military fortress. Is that background not similar to the Taiwan-controlled Matsu or Penghu archipelagoes?

Singapore tried to develop tourism in Sentosa in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the second-rate facilities that mushroomed attracted no more than 7 million tourists.

The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 hit Singapore's tourism revenues hard. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saw integrated resorts as a remedy for boosting the economy. They later proved to be great contributors to Singapore enjoying the highest economic growth rates among the Four Asian Tigers over the last three years.

The "integrated resorts" Lee proposed integrated the elements of recreation and gambling. Many travelers to Sentosa, which boasts facilities including museums, theme parks and an exhibition center, take their families with them, which shows they are not just there to gamble.

The Sentosa project helped Singapore rake in a great deal of money from tourism in just a few years and also created many jobs. Casinos are called "resorts" there, while in Taiwan, they will simply be viewed as casinos.

Nobody in Taiwan can see anything except "gambling" in the Matsu casino project. On the other hand, those who support the idea only see the incentives offered by casino operators, while those who oppose it think of gambling as a sin and a negative impact on society.

For Singapore, a country that had banned gambling for four decades, it took eight years to make its casino industry the world's third-largest after Macau and Las Vegas.

In Taiwan's case, where it seems the passage of a gambling bill will take forever, even if it does clear the legislative floor, the Cabinet and the Lienchiang county government, which administers Matsu, will be the next ones to have headaches.

Matsu does not have any of the necessary requirements for developing tourism -- sufficient water, electricity, roads, a large airport, hotels or even workers.

Its only advantage is the special approval given by the government to the outlying islands to operate casinos, while its disadvantages are so many, they can make a book. The only opportunity is travelers from China, but even then, they need government permission to travel there.

In 2012, Taiwan has fallen behind Singapore in terms of economic growth for a decade. When the country's exports have posted losses for four consecutive months, when Association of Southeast Asian Nations members want their workers to stop getting jobs in Taiwan, when President Ma Ying-jeou and his administration are still seeking social justice, we would like to ask: "Where will Taiwan be in 10 years' time?" (Editorial abstract -- July 10, 2012)

(By Kendra Lin)