Will Taiwan ever manage to legalise casinos?
This month the residents of Taiwan’s Penghu Islands, a windswept and in places guano-spattered outcrop of rocky land part way between Taiwan and Mainland China, had been expected to vote in a referendum designed to take the community one step nearer to having a legal casino.
It looks now as if that poll will not take place. Under Taiwan’s complex polling laws, 5% of the registered voters who took part in a previous, unrelated election were required to sign a petition in support of the casino referendum. That amounted to 3,521 people, and the local government says it’s come up short.
If Taiwan’s attempt at casino legalisation had been a boxing match, it would have been stopped on compassionate grounds many rounds ago. The locals on Penghu have been slugging it out with the central government in Taipei for the best part of two decades. The residents have already said yes to a casino at least once before, in 2003, when they voted by 57% to 43% in favour of the idea. Unfortunately at that time the turnout was only 21% according to local media reports. Taiwan’s government, which has to pay attention to a vocal national anti-casino lobby, has said it would like the Penghu islanders to say ‘yes’ again and in greater numbers, before it can take the final step and sanction the proposal.
A whole generation of Penghu islanders has been born, grown up and emigrated in search of better economic opportunities since the local politicians first started campaigning to be allowed to develop a casino in order to kick-start the local economy. After 16 years of dogged campaigning, even if Penghu jumps through all the necessary electoral hoops, there is still no guarantee the community will actually be allowed to have its coveted gambling resort.
According to one Taiwanese observer, Kinmen, another of Taiwan’s outlying islands only ten kilometres offshore from Mainland China, has emerged as a front runner in the Taiwan casino race, with ambitious plans by its local council to build a bridge to deliver Mainland tourists direct to its proposed resort.
The good news from the perspective of Penghu and London-listed AMZ Holdings, which is hanging on to a prime beach side plot on Penghu in expectation of a bumper pay day if it can team up with a rich partner, is that two Taiwan licences are potentially up for grabs.