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Matsu's plan for mahjong competition draws protests

2012/11/19 17:33

Taipei, Nov. 19 (CNA) Anti-gambling activists protested Monday after Lienchiang County government officials announced in Taipei that the county will hold a mahjong championship next year in Matsu, the island group off China's coast that it administers.

The protesters from the Alliance Against the Legalization of Gambling gathered outside the venue where the planned competition was announced and held placards reading "Casinos are not LOHAS; Gamblers don't tour for sightseeing."

Residents of the county approved a referendum in July that allows resort casinos in Matsu, and the mahjong initiative is part of a "Matsu Gambling Tourism Year One" campaign to build the islands' credentials as a center for gambling and leisure tourism and prepare for the introduction of a casino.

Lienchiang County Magistrate Yang Sui-sheng defended the gambling campaign, including the push for a casino, as something residents felt was necessary to build islands' infrastructure.

He described Matsu as once being a war zone disconnected from the outside world with tenuous transportation connections limited to the sea or air.

Matsu residents have chosen gambling tourism as a key component of the islands' future development and decided to use the introduction of resort casinos as a way to improve Matsu's transportation infrastructure, Yang said.

His argument, however, did little to persuade the protesters to give up their campaign against casinos and gambling events such as the mahjong competition.

Ho Tsung-hsun, an executive with the anti-gambling alliance, contended that casinos are places that "are hazardous to human hearts and destructive to families."

Casinos will waste resources, Ho argued, and he advised the county chief to not organize gambling activities in the name of LOHAS, an acronym for lifestyle of health and sustainability.

Ho also stressed that because the Legislature has yet to pass legislation governing gambling and its related activities, holding a mahjong competition in public would be illegal.

Yang said he accepted and respected different opinions but appeared determined not to back down from his gambling tourism plan.

The county's Tourism Bureau said the preliminary round of contests will begin in January and the finals are scheduled to take place on Feb. 3.

The total purse will be NT$2 million (US$69,000), with the winner to receive a prize of NT$1.5 million.

People can register for the event for a fee of NT$1,000 at any travel agency offering tour packages to Matsu, according to the bureau.

(By Lin Shen-hsu and Elizabeth Hsu) enditem/ls