Despite demonstrations outside the legislature, the Legislative Yuan yesterday approved an amendment to the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例), legalizing the operation of casinos on the nation’s outlying islands.
The 98 legislators present during the plenary session voted 72 to 26 in support of a proposed amendment by the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (NPSU) that would allow the opening of casinos on islands like Kinmen, Matsu, Orchid Island and Green Island.
Gambling is illegal in Taiwan.
The amendment stipulated that local governments must hold a referendum before building casinos.
The referendums would only need to win support from more than half of the voters participating in the referendum.
The bill stipulated that casinos be located within international resorts that include an international hotel, tourism facilities, international conference halls and shopping malls.
Companies interested in building an international resort on any of the nation’s islands would need to apply to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.
The legislature also approved another amendment to the act that would oblige the central government to set up a minimum fund of NT$30 billion (US$901 million) to improve the development of the islands.
After passage of the amendments, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and NPSU legislators applauded the move, while Democratic Progressive Party legislators chanted: “Gambling cannot save the nation’s economy.”
NPSU Legislator Lin Pin-kun (林炳坤) told reporters that legalizing operation of casinos on the islands was necessary for the country to be “internationalized.”
KMT Legislator Wu Ching-chih (吳清池) said he cast an affirmative vote as a result of the caucus’ decision, but that he “was saddened” to see the bill pass.
DPP Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said the DPP regretted the passing of the bill and that the KMT should take responsibility for the consequences of opening casinos in the country.
Outside the legislature, a group of Buddhist monks and other activists demonstrated against the passage of the amendments.
“We are disappointed and upset about this result. Such a controversial issue should have been openly debated and decided by a nationwide referendum,” Buddhist master Shih Chao-hui (釋昭慧) told demonstrators. “Representatives for the Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as Buddhists in Taiwan, have stood up against casinos today. The KMT has apparently taken a hostile step against religious organizations in Taiwan.”
Aside from Shih, Archbishop of Taipei John Hung (洪山川) and a preacher from the Taiwan Presbyterian Church, Lu Chun-yi (盧俊義), also joined the protest. The protesters recited a sutra — usually recited at funerals to redeem the deceased from his or her sins — to wash away the sins that KMT lawmakers committed by passing the amendment, Shih said.
The religious groups were joined by other civic groups who wished to express their concern about the negative impact of casinos.
“The crime rate in Las Vegas went up 1.7 times after gambling was legalized,” Citizen Congress Watch executive director Ho Tsung-hsun (何宗勳) said. “Las Vegas is also the city with the highest suicide and divorce rates in the US.”
Green Party Taiwan Secretary-General Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) said that casinos could become money-laundering centers. Hu Tzu-fei (胡姿妃), a junior at National Penghu University, said that building casinos was an appropriate development strategy for Penghu.