Thu, Mar 08, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Minister revives offshore islands gambling debate

THROWING THE DICE News that the president may be behind the most recent proposal to allow casino gambling drew a torrent of outrage from anti-gambling groups

By Jou Ying-cheng  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of the Interior Chang Po-ya (張博雅) yesterday said that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had expressed support for a proposal to allow casinos at planned five-star hotels on Taiwan's outlying islands.

Chang said she also agreed with the proposal.

But the remarks drew immediate criticism from anti-gambling groups.

Chang made the comment yesterday morning at a joint meeting of the legislature's interior and financial committees, which were reviewing amendments to the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例). New Party Legislator Feng Ting-kuo (馮定國) asked Chang whether the government would consider lifting the ban on casinos on the outer islands in order to boost the local economy.

"I fully agree with the idea of tourist hotels setting up casino facilities as part of the development of the local tourist industry," Chang said.

She added that Chen had also expressed his agreement with the proposal in a recent meeting with the president of a US company interested in investing in the tourism industry on the Penghu Islands.

KMT Legislator Lin Pin-kuan (林炳坤) from Penghu County and a keen advocate of casinos, said he would within a few days table more amendments to the Offshore Islands Development Act to legalize casinos on the outlying islands.

Chang said it was better that legislators propose the amendments rather than the Executive Yuan.

The possible introduction of casinos to Taiwan's outlying islands has been a controversial issue since 1988. Advocates say casinos would boost tourism and stimulate the economies of remote areas -- creating more jobs and tax revenues -- while objections have focused on issues of public order and morality.

Several civil groups and people opposed to the legalization of gambling swiftly condemned the proposal, saying that the DPP government was worse than the KMT as far as this issue was concerned.

"If the new government's economic policy is to attract tourists with gambling, then [the government] is sinking too low and degrading itself," the groups' joint statement said.

The statement said that even the KMT government upheld an anti-gambling policy out of concern over public order and safety, despite intensive lobbying by interested parties. "Why has the DPP government become so keen to rake in ill-gotten profits?" it asked.

The names on the statement included the Life Conservationist Society (關懷生命協會); Shih Shin-Min (施信民), chairman of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (台灣環保聯盟); Kao Cheng-yen (高成炎) of the Green Party in Taiwan (綠黨); New Party Legislator Hsieh Chi-ta (謝啟大); KMT Legislator Chen Horng-chi (陳鴻基) and others.

The statement stressed that, citing the experience of other countries, legalized gambling would cause crime rates to rise.

The groups also said casinos offer no economic benefits. They cited US research data which found that for every dollar earned by casinos, taxpayers pay three dollars in social welfare expenditures necessitated by the effects of gambling.

Chen Yueh-fong (陳玉峰), dean of the General Education Center at Providence University (靜宜大學), who also signed the statement, said the government must carry out a further assessment of the potential advantages and disadvantages of allowing the establishment of casinos.

"There is still room for discussion. I wonder whether the government has carefully evaluated [the proposal's] possible social impact," he said in an interview with the Taipei Times.

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