Legislators hope to block plan for gaming prizes

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Jan 05, 2003 - Page 3

Lawmakers from across party lines vowed yesterday to block advancement of a bill that would allow the conversion of video-game prizes into money as approved by the Economics and Energy Committee Thursday.

The proposed revision to rules governing video-game parlors would give the Ministry of Economic Affairs the power to establish stations nationwide where customers may exchange their prizes worth less than NT$2,000 with equivalent amounts of cash.

The planned measure, which had repeatedly been ditched by the last legislature, passed the economics committee Thursday, thanks to support from DPP and KMT members.

Though it must still pass second and third readings to become law, the legislation has raised many eyebrows, with opponents voicing concerns it may foster gambling among teenagers and the nation as a whole.

DPP Legislator Lai Ching-te (賴清德) said he received many phone calls in the past few days pressing him to kill the measure.

"A police officer from my constituency in Tainan County called me later, saying the measure must not be allowed to become law," Lai told reporters in the legislature. "If put into practice, it would aggravate gambling among adolescents, as it places no restriction on who may cash in their prizes."

He said the ruling party is slated to convene its legislative caucus tomorrow in an attempt to build consensus on the issue. Proponents of the measure argue that the government should legalize gambling, for which people have a born craving, as for sex.

"Where there are human beings, sex and gambling will find a way to exist," said DPP Legislator Lin Feng-his (林豐喜), a member of the economics committee who cast his vote for the proposed amendment.

"It is time the government faces the matter. Continued avoidance promises no solution," he said.

But Lin's colleague Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said Lin represents a minority of DPP lawmakers.

Yeh said most of the 60-odd DPP legislators frown on the gambling clause, which she and others blocked before the last legislative polls on the grounds that it could morally harm society.

She advised against linking the disputed proposal to the suggested establishment of casinos on Penghu, saying the casino plan would allow only adults to gamble in a specific zone.

"But the bill at issue would in effect lift the ban on gambling across the country without age limits," Yeh added.

Expressing a similar view, PFP legislative whips Liu Wen-hsiung (劉文雄) and Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said their caucus would withhold its approval of the video-game plan during cross-party negotiations.

They noted that the legislation was not placed on the regular legislative agenda but a few proponents managed to sneak it through, taking advantage of the absence of committee members.

"In light of the damage the bill may cause to the nation, the PFP will not acknowledge the committee decision and will see to it the proposal is returned to the Procedure Committee," Lee said.