There are many reasons for voting to have a casino in one’s county, city or even neighborhood, just as there are many reasons for voting not to have a casino. Although this article will not examine those arguments, when Matsu recently held a referendum on whether to build a casino resort, those voting had to consider such issues.
However, the impact of the referendum was not limited to the issue of casinos and the result promises to shake the nation, because the vote also involved democracy, the rule of law and both the real and metaphoric aspects of gambling and bluffing.
Matsu is a small island off the coast of China, but it is not part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Instead, it is part of the Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan. Matsu, unlike China, has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and, unlike Taiwan, was never part of the Japanese Empire. It has its own strange and unique history.
However, one problem this small island and its surrounding archipelago has is that it currently has only 7,762 registered voters, compared with about 17 million plus eligible voters in Taiwan proper.
In other words, when it comes to political clout and securing improvements in Matsu’s infrastructure, those fewer than 8,000 voters are a drop in the ocean, hardly worth the time of day when public funding allocations are discussed.
Enter now the quirks, advantages and disadvantages of present day reality and democracy. In the nation of Taiwan, gambling is illegal, even though many people like to and do gamble.
For this reason, no approval has ever been given for the building of a casino because such a proposal has to be approved by the legislature to become law and most legislators do not want to face the concerted opposition of anti-casino activist groups. Whenever the possibility of casinos has been raised, such groups have quickly squashed all debate.
However, in 2000, in an effort to help development in the outlying islands, the legislature passed the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例, OIDA), a seemingly innocent law designed to promote tourism. This act sat quietly on the books until an amendment in 2009 subsequently included the building of casinos as part of offshore development.
At that time, the building of casinos was declared legal if approved by a local referendum.
Taking advantage of this latest development, pro-gambling lobby groups in 2009 pushed for a referendum on Penghu, but it was defeated.
It should be noted that these island development referendums do not have to pass the high bar set for national referendums. For example, in national referendums, more than 50 percent of eligible voters must turn out and vote for the result to be valid. In contrast, the outcome of a local OIDA referendum is determined by a majority of those who vote.
On July 7, when Matsu voters went to the polls, 1,795 of them voted in favor of building a casino and 1,341 voted against.
Put another way, 454 voters on this small, out-of-the-way island determined the fate of casinos in the nation and the rest of the electorate had no say in the matter. It was all perfectly democratic and legal.
Now follow the consequences. Since the voters have approved the building of resort casinos, Weidner Resorts Taiwan quickly said it would not only build a resort casino, but also contribute handsomely to the development of infrastructure in Matsu.