Taiwan could be about to legalise casino gambling after its Parliament voted yesterday to permit a special referendum on the matter in the Penghu Islands, which lie off its western coast.
An archipelago consisting of some 90 small islands and islets, the Penghu Islands have a population of just over 92,000. The area has been suffering for many years from a depressed economy, which has forced large numbers of its citizens to leave in order to find work.
The measure could boost the area’s economy by attracting tourists and is expected to pass overwhelmingly when it comes before islanders in June.
Parliament authorised the special referendum by a vote of 71 to 26 led by President Ma Ying-Jeou of the China-friendly Nationalist Party. Proponents stated that, if successful, the measure could now see large resort casinos built on the small islands creating jobs along with revenues for the state.
“If we adopt Singapore's model of establishing a special tourism zone, building casinos is only part of the zone,' said Wang Jin-Pying, Parliament Speaker.
The Penghu County Government revealed that it had already amassed $909 million in private investment to help develop a casino resort and plans to authorise a 120-hectare international vacation village containing a 2,000-room hotel, a duty-free shopping mall, an international convention centre alongside golf courses and casinos with construction scheduled to start in 2011.
However, protesters led by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) demonstrated outside Parliament after the vote warning of potential social and ecological problems. Opposition legislators have also accused the President of looking to China in order to solve Taiwan's economic woes and pointed out that the nearby gambling centre of Macau faces problems after growing very dependent on Chinese gamblers.