Sat, Dec 27, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Critics say casinos no answer to woes


Legalizing casinos is not the answer to Penghu's economic woes, according to activists and legislators who spoke up against gambling on the eve of a Penghu County referendum on the issue.

"A referendum on gambling is a serious issue that deserves to be rethought," said Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Eugene Jao (趙永清) at the Legislative Yuan yesterday morning.

"We need to consider the consequences from different perspectives. Legalized gambling would affect the business of other trades, hurt natural resources, and make gambling a part of Penghu's general environment," he said.

The Penghu County Government will be conducting an advisory referendum today to determine whether Penghu residents support the legalization of casinos. The ballot issued by the county government asks voters to cast a ballot for or against the county government's bid to establish casinos in special tourism districts in the county.

Proponents of legalizing casinos have argued that casinos would help boost tourism and be a source of income for the remote county.

"Penghu's geography and weather have imposed restrictions on its economic development," said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Pin-kun (林炳坤), who represents the Penghu constituency.

"This advisory referendum plays a pivotal role in deciding the future of the county," he said.

Lin said that if the results of the advisory referendum were in favor of casinos, he would have more sway in pushing for a formal referendum in accordance with the Referendum Law (公投法) and eventually revise the Gambling Law (博奕條款), part of the Offshore Islands Development Law (離島建設條例), to allow for casinos.

However, Chao-hwei Shih (釋昭慧), founder of the Alliance Against Legalized Gambling, said that the referendum was a strategy for putting pressure on the Cabinet.

Shih said that legalization of gambling in Taiwan was not a decision that Penghu could make for all Taiwanese people.

"If gambling is legalized, all Taiwanese citizens would be affected. If there is to be a referendum on legalizing casinos, it should be a nation-wide referendum," Shih said.

"If the legalization of casinos is just for the sake of financial gain, then the casinos should be open only to foreigners visiting Taiwan. That's how it's done in Korea," Shih said.

In addition, environmental activists have also expressed concern of the impact of legalizing casinos in Penghu. Penghu Environmental Protection Society President Lin Chang-hsing (林長興) asserted that there was no need for casinos given the abundant ecological resources in Penghu.

"What we need are tourists, not gamblers in Penghu. The cultural and environmental resources of Penghu should draw tourists, not casinos," Lin said.

Chen Man-li (陳曼麗), president of the Homemakers' Union and Foundation echoed Lin's sentiments.

"Economically speaking, Penghu may not be developing as quickly as the rest of Taiwan, but we need to take into consideration sustainable development. Gambling is not in the interest of the island county's long term development needs," said Chen. He warned that casinos would lead to the destruction of Penghu's cultural and environmental assets.

"The referendum will have no legal effect but it will put pressure on the central government," Shih said. "The timing of this advisory referendum makes us suspicious. Why is the Penghu County Government in such a rush to hold this referendum? They do not even have Cabinet approval."

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