Taiwan denies licensing casinos

Taiwan’s government said it is considering allowing casinos on the island, but denied a report it has decided to issue three licenses for gaming resorts.
The Council for Economic Planning and Development will complete a report in six months on the feasibility of opening casinos and no decision has been made, Jill Wang, a government media liaison officer, said Wednesday.

The Commercial Times newspaper, citing council vice chairman Chang Ching-sen, reported that the government plans to issue three licenses to open casinos in areas where family incomes are lower than average.

Opening casinos in Taiwan would create competition with Macau, which had a 22 percent surge in gambling revenue last year to USD 6.95 billion (HKD 54.21 billion) and is the only Chinese city where gaming is legal.

„There is still that issue about China and Taiwan, so it remains to be seen just how many people from the mainland would be allowed to visit Taiwan and its casinos,“ said Tony Pearce, who helps manage the equivalent of USD 3 billion of Australian equities at Legg Mason Asset Management in Melbourne.

„The last thing the mainland would want is to lose money from Macau.“

Taiwan wants to let as many as 1,000 mainland tourists a day visit the island directly instead of traveling via other countries, Joseph Wu, the island’s Mainland Affairs Council chairman, said in September. Taipei last week made Wu its new de facto envoy to the United States.

Taiwan, where gambling is illegal except in lotteries, may follow Singapore in granting permission to open gaming resorts to attract tourists. Singapore in 2005 lifted a 40-year ban on casinos, attracting about USD 6.6 billion of investment from Las Vegas Sands and Malaysia’s Genting.

Foreign investors are also targeting Japan, Vietnam and other Asian countries, as governments move to lift decades-long restrictions on casinos.

Taiwan may allow casinos in „economically-disadvantaged“ areas on the main island and offshore islets.

Previously it had indicated casinos would only be allowed on off-shore islands.

„Opening and not opening casinos are both our options,“ Wang said.