Tue, Jun 05, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Bets on as referendum over casinos takes shape

By Pan Han-shen 潘翰聲

A few days ago, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) said that “gambling is a new vacation concept for the whole family.” When an anti-gambling organization issued a recorded video rebuttal, Hu obstinately stuck to his guns, saying that “gambling is still common in our society, but if we bring it into the area of normal and legally regulated activities, we generally refer to it as ‘gaming.’”

To publicly endorse casino gambling in the run-up to a July 7 referendum in Matsu on whether to allow casinos there seems to be an ill-intended attempt to turn Taiwan into an offshore money laundering center for China.

To support his point of view, Hu used Las Vegas as an example, saying that the US city cleaned up its casinos and turned the place into a family holiday resort during the 1990s. However, the MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park, which represented the biggest investment, was in trouble after only nine months.

In 2009, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) promoted a referendum on gambling in Penghu on the condition that gambling would not be legalized on Taiwan proper under Ma’s watch. Hu, however, thinks that “we should not look upon ‘gaming’ as some kind of ‘compensation’ and only allow the establishment of special zones in more slowly developing areas,” and is thus promoting the establishment of a special gambling district in Greater Taichung. The intent behind the text which would allow gambling in the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例) is finally revealed.

Due to its own incompetence, the KMT-run central government hopes a benevolent China will come to its rescue, and in the same way, because it is unwilling to improve transportation on Matsu, it now hopes big business will do so as part of their casino developments.

In terms of controlling law and order at casinos, Hu, who lacks all ability to maintain law and order in his city, is the least qualified of all mayors to promote casinos. The lethal shooting of alleged gang leader Weng Chi-nan (翁奇楠) in 2010 seemed to involve top city government officials and the case still has not been solved satisfactorily.

The publication of a survey into government efficiency revealed that Greater Taichung ranked lowest in terms of law and order, fire prevention and transportation, and fourth from the bottom in education. Netizens joke about a Greater Taichung hotel that opened a school by calling it “vertical integration.” One can only wonder if Hu’s single-minded push to allow gambling is also an attempt at “vertical integration” by creating a positive effect for the peripheral businesses surrounding the gambling industry.

The popular movement against gambling managed to win the battle in the Penghu gambling referendum three years ago and it embarrassed Ma, who has never dared to broach the subject since. However, the Matsu gambling referendum next month will see the gambling industry sink its teeth into local councils with councilors broaching the subject during interpellations and mayors responding by giving their support to gambling initiatives. Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) had barely stepped down from her post as interim Democratic Progressive Party chairperson before she announced her support for developing a gambling tourism industry. Is this the policy direction of the nation’s biggest opposition party?

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