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Political parties divided on Matsu casino project

2012/07/08 19:12:17

Taipei, July 8 (CNA) The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) will support a bill to build casinos on outlying Matsu Island after its residents agreed to the plan in a referendum, but an opposition party official said Sunday that the KMT will have to be responsible for the consequences.

Some oppose gambling because they believe it is a matter of ethics, said KMT caucus whip Hsu Yao-chang. However, others support the casino project in hope of boosting local development on the economically struggling island, added Hsu, noting that the KMT will vote in favor of a gambling act.

The referendum a day earlier, in which residents voted to open the rugged island's doors to casino development, was only the beginning of what will be a long legislative and administrative process.

The Cabinet is scheduled to discuss a draft act allowing gambling industry in Taiwan Monday with relevant government agencies, including the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC). The bill is still in its drafting stage and will require both Cabinet and Legislative approval.

Establishing casinos on Matsu, which has fewer resources than other outlying Taiwan-controlled islands such as Penghu and Kinmen, is a shortcut to economic prosperity, according to Hsu.

Meanwhile, his counterpart Ker Chien-ming of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said the DPP has always opposed opening to casinos, although the party respects the referendum results, which Ker described as an expression of public opinion.

However, the DPP will not intervene even if the act makes it to the Legislature for review, said Ker, adding that the KMT will have to bear responsibility for the results.

Meanwhile that day, Transport Minister Mao Chi-kuo proposed requirements to avoid a negative impact on the Matsu living environment and public security as a result of the establishment of a casino in one of the poorest regions of Taiwan.

The first thing is that tight control measures should be implemented, as is the case in Singapore, Mao said. Moreover, a gambling control administration is necessary, with enforcement at casinos carried out by police officers, the minister added.

The tourism sector offered mixed opinions about the first casino project likely to be realized in Taiwan.

Travel agencies will be able to sell gambling vacation packages to Matsu once a casino resort opens there, said Ma Yi-lung, head of the Kaohsiung Tourism Association.

If Matsu can be equipped with good vacation facilities, it can attract tourists who currently travel to Macau or Singapore to gamble, Ma added.

However, Lin Fu-nan, leader of an alliance of tourism-related businesses in the Kaohsiung and Pingtung areas in southern Taiwan, said he doubts Matsu's potential to become a competitor for casinos in Macau and Singapore.

Macau is a popular vacation destination for local travelers because of its ease of access from Taiwan and its rich cultural resources and shopping areas, said Lin. Without thorough planning, he added, Matsu will not be competitive enough.

(By Ho Meng-kuei, Wang Shwu-fen, Andrew Liu and Kendra Lin)