The nation’s outlying islands have emerged as a possible new growth area for the casino industry as large conglomerates in the sector, such as Caesars Entertainment Corp, MGM Inc and Las Vegas Sands Corp have all assessed the feasibility of investing in Taiwan.
Council for Economic Planning and Development Minister Christina Liu (劉憶如) revealed on Thursday that Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman visited Kinmen in April to evaluate the island county’s investment climate.
Caesars Entertainment, the world’s largest gambling business operator, with annual profits exceeding US$8.8 billion last year, is reportedly interested in building comprehensive recreation and entertainment facilities in Kinmen, which lies closer to China’s Fujian Province than to Taiwan proper.
Liu said she and Loveman, a former associate professor at Harvard Business School, have many common friends.
Loveman flew to Kinmen after a brief meeting with Liu in Taipei. He was reportedly impressed by Kinmen’s development potential and has shown keen interest in building a large resort that accommodates recreational, amusement and casino facilities to attract tourists from around the world.
Lawrence Ho (何猷龍), son of Macau gambling industry tycoon Stanley Ho (何鴻燊), also led a team of corporate executives to visit Kinmen recently to explore its investment climate.
Under current regulations, casinos can only be operated on the outlying islands and are forbidden on Taiwan proper.
Liu said the government would respect local residents’ opinions in deciding whether to give the green light to casino-related investment projects.
“The central government will neither speed up nor prohibit those programs. We will listen to the voices of those residing on those small islands,” Liu said, adding that the central government would also see to it that none of those programs would pose a threat to the local ecology and environment.
Kinmen County Commissioner Li Wo-shi (李沃士) said that once the central government unveiled clear regulations on casino operations later this year, the county government would hold a referendum on the issue to let local residents express their opinions on relevant investment projects.
In consideration of the generally conservative sentiment among local residents, Lee said, international casino tycoons tend to keep a low profile when conducting market surveys and investment assessments.
They usually pay courtesy calls at the county government, but refrain from asking for any official data or information, Lee said.
During the Cold War era, Kinmen was a frontline island in a standoff between Taiwan and China. With cross-strait relations thawing, the island county has gradually been transformed into a new tourist destination, with its war relics and disused military infrastructure serving as major attractions.
Lee said only investment programs that can help turn Kinmen into a vacation paradise would be welcomed and approved.
Foreign wire services have also reported that MGM Inc, one of the world’s largest casino business groups, is interested in investing in Taiwan, and that Las Vegas Sands is also considering building casino resorts in several areas, including Taiwan, to reproduce its successful ventures in Singapore and Macau.