Sun, Jan 22, 2006 - Page 17 News List

Another roll of the dice

Taiwan has been contemplating allowing gambling on its outlying islands, but could miss the boat if it does not act soon

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Needless to say, the opposition party and several anti-gaming law pan-Greens were outraged by the comments and the Presidential Office was forced to issue a statement reiterating the government's prevailing ambivalent stance on the matter.

Adelson is not the only industry big gun to be keeping a close watch on the ongoing situation in Taiwan. Representatives from the MGM Grand, PBL, Stanley Ho's consortium and Steve Wynn's Wynn Resorts Ltd have all, at one time or another, met with Taiwanese officials to discuss the issue. None, however, have made any formal statements and all are, for legal as well as business reasons, keeping tight-lipped about what conclusions, if any, they drew from the meetings.

"Lots of [casino owners] have visited officials over the past several years, but they can't say very much because, firstly they don't want to tell the opposition what they are up to, and secondly they have to be very careful," said a legal expert from the Taiwan National University who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They can't be seen to interfere with the process of the law, especially those with assets in the US who have to run their businesses as transparently as possible. One slip up and their multi-million dollar licenses could be revoked."

Penghu, which is leading the pack as a possible location for Taiwan's future casinos, may have voted in favor of the legalization of gambling in a referendum held in December 2003, but lawmakers from both sides of the pan-Green/pan-Blue divide have remained at loggerheads on the issue for a decade.

Originally known as the Draft Governing the Establishment of Casino Resorts, the Gaming Bill was first introduced at the Legislative Yuan in 1996. The bill's first reading took place in September 1996, but since it was considered to be "a [very] serious matter" lawmakers opted to not to continue with the bill until the Executive Yuan had taken a stance on the matter.

"It's a hot political potato [that] no one wants to be associated with or take a position on," said Ashley Hines, whose company Amazing Holdings has recently purchased an 11-hectare site on Penghu, where subject to the legalization of gambling it hopes to build one of the nation's first casinos. "It's as if [lawmakers] are all saying, `I don't want to be the one who goes down in history as the guy who legalized gambling [in Taiwan].'"

In November 1997 the bill was incorporated into the Outlying Islands Development Act and passed an initial reading. Three years later, in March of 2000, the Outlying Islands

Development Act was once again brought to the attention of the Legislative Yuan.

The gaming clause, however, was considered too controversial an issue and lawmakers were, after heated debate, forced to delete the clauses that would lead to the legalization of gambling.

In January 2002 the Gaming Bill was once again submitted to the Legislative Yuan for reading and once again lawmakers dismissed it. In May last year the Legislative Yuan held a committee meeting, the aim of which was to ratify a slightly less controversial Gaming Bill. The review was completed on May 31, but with the legislative session already at an end, time constraints meant the bill was unable to be reviewed.

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