Sun, Jun 21, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Penghu chief tells premier that he wants two casinos

Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER , PENGHU COUNTY

Penghu County Commissioner Wang Chien-fa (王乾發) yesterday called for the Executive Yuan to issue at least two licenses to casino operators on the island and bar casinos from operating on Taiwan  proper for 20 years after the opening of casinos in Penghu County.

Wang made the remarks during a briefing for Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) and related officials who visited the outlying island yesterday.

Wang said that having two casino operators would be the best way for the industry to develop in the county, as they could create industry cluster and competitiveness.

Liu did not make any commitments, saying details of the casino plan have not been decided.

When asked for comments on Wang’s request, Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) said that the off-shore Island Development Act (離島建設條例) only allows the country’s outlying islands to establish casinos.

REFERENDUM

The amendments to the Act adopted by the Legislative Yuan in January allow the construction of casinos if more than 50 percent of an island’s population agrees in a referendum.

After obtaining approval from the Executive Yuan last week, the Penghu County Government has scheduled a plebiscite on the matter for August at the earliest. The vote would not be subject to a minimum voter turnout.

Hung Dong-lin (洪棟霖), head of the Penghu County Tourism Bureau, said that international casino groups from Malaysia, the US, Australia, South America, South Korea and Macau had expressed interest in operating casinos in Penghu, and that some of them recently made inspection trips there.

However, not everyone shared the idea that casinos in Penghu County would be successful.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a local official said he doubted the casinos would be profitable unless they had their own characteristics to help draw visitors who might otherwise patronize casinos in South Korea, Singapore, Macau or Malaysia.

“Sustaining a casino requires between 2 million and 3 million visitors a year,” the official said.

BIGGER PICTURE

Independent Legislator Lin Pin-kuan (林炳坤) said the central government should focus on developing the overall tourism environment in Penghu County, which is short of money for improving tourism facilities and often suffers from unstable supplies of water and electricity.

“Without attractions to lure tourists, Penghu will never become developed even if it does get casinos,” Lin said.

A group of local residents who have formed an anti-casino alliance failed to submit a petition to Liu yesterday because he had a last minute change of schedule.

Liu and a group of officials were initially scheduled to have lunch at a restaurant, but they decided to eat in a military district where the public is not allowed.

Some 20 protesters held up placards that said “No Casinos in Penghu” and called Liu “a turtle retracting its head into its shell.”

Liu and several Cabinet officials also visited the island’s Makung Harbor and Makung Airport yesterday to learn about expansion projects underway for accommodating increasing numbers of tourists from China following the relaxations of “small three links” routes and the opening of direct cross-strait transportation.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications has said that the annual number of tourists visiting Penghu County in a year was about 500,000, far less than the 3.7 million travelers that visit Taiwan proper.

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