Tue, Oct 16, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Offshore gambling measures score big among legislators


A pair of legislative committees passed draft regulations yesterday that would allow gambling on Taiwan's offshore islands such as Kinmen and Penghu.

In addition, changes to "The Offshore Islands Development Act" would allow all Taiwanese to travel to China through offshore islands.

Currently, under the "small three links," only residents of the Kinmen and Matsu island groups may travel to China.

Lawmakers say the revisions to the Act would help stimulate the economies of the nation's offshore islands.

The draft changes were passed by the Finance and the Home and Nations committees.

Chen Ching-pao (陳清寶) and Lin Pin-kuan (林炳坤), KMT legislators from Kinmen and Penghu, were among the lawmakers advocating the revisions yesterday.

In Chen's proposal, the decision whether to legalize gambling would be left up to a majority vote of an island's residents. A decision to abolish gambling could be achieved in the same manner.

The lawmaker's plan also envisions casino operators paying 10 percent of their gross to an island's local government and "offshore construction funds." In addition, at least 50 percent of a casino's employees would have to be local hires.

But not everyone was satisfied with yesterday's proposal.

Su Tzen-ping (蘇正平), director of the Government Information Office, said he regretted the legislative committees' move, as the Cabinet was planning a similar measure.

"Executive departments are evaluating and establishing a proposal for the legalization of gambling on offshore islands," Su said. "We hope that the Legislative Yuan can wait for the executive departments' proposal."

Proposals to introduce casinos to Taiwan's offshore islands have been controversial. At the end of last year, the Development and Evaluation Commission said it was evaluating the possibility of legalizing gambling on off-shore islands.

In March, Minister of the Interior Chang Po-ya (張博雅) said that she and President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) agreed that casinos should be allowed on offshore islands.

Those remarks sparked heated debate among environmentalists, scholars and religious leaders about whether the government should roll the dice on legalized gambling.

But gambling isn't seen as the sole way to solve the economic problems of the nation's offshore islands.

Some hope tourists bound for China could give the islands a much-needed boost.

Lin Chung-cheng (林忠正) said yesterday that anyone from Taiwan should be allowed to travel to China through an island participating in the "small three links." Currently, just residents of the Kinmen and Matsu island groups may go.

Lin said making the change would help Taiwanese reduce transportation costs, in addition to stimulating the economies of off-shore islands.

Chen agreed that the revision would be beneficial. "The main purpose of implementing the small three links was so that goods and Taiwanese travelers would pass through the offshore islands instead of Hong Kong and Macau," Chen said. "But the Cabinet has been conservative" in allowing a greater flow of goods and tourists, Chen said.

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