Taiwan debate goes on

With casino development one of the biggest topics throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the government and the people of Taiwan continue to blow hot and cold on the subject. It is not a new situation.

The Penghu County of Taiwan, composed of a number of islands between the main island and the Chinese mainland, has been one of the primary locales touted as being ripe for casino development. According to a recent report in the Taiwan Journal, 57 percent of voters responded favorably to casinos in a county referendum brought by pro-casino elements in the local government five years ago. Unfortunately for supporters, because voter turnout was only slightly over 20 percent, the results were relatively easy for the national government to dismiss as being of no consequence.

Several times the national legislature has rejected a casino article in the Offshore Islands Development Act. The most recent refusal came just last December. One bright spot: In 2003, a 51-vote margin made the casino element a loser, but in December 2007 the margin was only 27 votes. In a very real sense the delay may have already cost Penghu and Taiwan dearly. Las Vegas Sands Corp. is said to have been looking at Taiwan’s islands several years before Macau became a possibility.

A longtime supporter of casinos, independent legislator Lin Pin-kuan from Penghu is not giving up. He has reportedly tried to introduce casino legislation in each of his four terms. Now, according to an aide, the ruling party may be ready to accept the change.

Lin wants Minister Chen Tain-jy of the Council for Economic Planning and Development to honor President Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign promise to pass casino legislation as soon as possible. The council reportedly will send its version of the casino article to the national body in December, where discussion will begin.

Even if Taiwan does approve casinos, however, there is no guarantee that Penghu will get the nod. There are many counties around the island said to be vying for the prize.