Tue, Apr 01, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Cabinet finally bets on gambling

BIG MONEY After saying in November that the public did not support legalizing casinos, it now says it will support the measure if the legislature wants to pass it

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Cabinet changed its mind yet again on the issue of gambling, saying yesterday it would support amendments awaiting review in the legislature that would legalize casinos on outlying islands.

"Our stance is clear. We'll respect the final result of cross-party negotiations and the decision of the legislature," Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) quoted Premier Yu Shyi-kun as saying yesterday afternoon.

Yu held a meeting earlier in the day to discuss infrastructure development on the outlying islands, which include the Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu island groups.

Claiming a lack of public consensus, the Executive Yuan last November rejected an interior ministry proposal to legalize gambling on Penghu.

But yesterday, Hsu Ying-shen (許應深), political vice interior minister, said that the government would inform lawmakers of the results of several opinion polls, some of which indicate support for the plan, when the legislature reviews amendments to the Offshore Islands Development Law (離島建設條例).

The amendments, which have passed the first reading, include an opposition-sponsored measure to legalize gambling in Penghu.

According to Hsu, a poll conducted by the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology between Jan. 18 and Jan. 30 and between Feb. 5 and Feb. 16 showed that 51 percent of people in Taiwan favored legalizing gambling on outlying islands and 23 percent opposed.

Another poll, by the United Daily News, conducted between Oct. 18 and Oct. 20 last year showed 58 percent in favor and 34 percent against.

A poll conducted between March 20 and March 22 in 2001 showed 40.9 percent in favor and 54.6 percent opposed.

An earlier poll conducted by the Cabinet's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission between Oct. 12 and Oct. 13 in 2000 showed that 44.9 percent of Penghu residents favored the establishment of casinos on the islets.

The debate over legalizing gambling on outlying islands has been going on for more than five years. The Cabinet has had difficulty reaching a consensus on the issue because of disagreements between ministries.

The Ministry of Justice, for example, opposes the idea, claiming that gambling should remain a criminal offense.

The Ministry of Finance, however, supports the idea because it says it may help local governments raise funds.

The Ministry of the Interior, which had originally favored the idea, later decided that the matter needed more careful consideration.

According to an assessment of the effects of legalizing gambling on outlying islands conducted by the interior ministry, supporters of legalized gambling think that it would attract investment and create more job opportunities.

Critics argue that gambling would not only damage the islands' security and environment, but would also increase the cost of living there.

Yesterday's meeting also discussed the progress of a five-year infrastructure development project on Kinmen and Matsu island groups.

According to Lin, the government has spent more than NT$9.2 billion on infrastructure construction in Kinmen and NT$4.8 billion in Matsu since the Cabinet launched the projects in 2000.

The Cabinet plans to spend NT$19.5 billion on infrastructure in Kinmen and NT$7.4 billion in Matsu.

To accelerate the development of the outlying islands, the defense ministry has opened restricted military zones in Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu.

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