Anti-casino group holds protest

REPUBLIC OF CASINO: :The group held a satirical coronation in which the character King Ma Ying-chiu gave titles to his vassals — politicians who support the casino plan

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Feb 15, 2009 - Page 2

Mocking the government’s casino policy, anti-casino activists yesterday staged a ceremony in Taipei to establish their own ROC — not the Republic of China, but the Republic of Casino.

“Long live the king,” shouted about 100 activists who played citizens of the new country as they cheered and waved the national flag while an activist who played King Ma Ying-chiu (馬英久) — the satiric version of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — was crowned.

The flag of the new country is similar to that of Taiwan, but on the blue rectangle in the corner there is a die rather than a sun with twelve rays spreading outward.

The king then conferred titles to his vassals, including the marquises of Penghu, Taichung, Changhua, Taoyuan, Kaohsiung, Kinmen and Matsu — representing some of the cities and counties that showed interest in building casinos.

However, behind the laughter and happy atmosphere at the prank ceremony were the deep worries of anti-casino activists.

“According to US studies, 17 percent of gamblers would become addicted to gambling, and it takes, on average, US$18,000 to help an addicted gambler to quit gambling,” said Shih Chao-hui (釋昭慧), a Buddhist master and convener of an anti-gambling alliance. “Is the government ready to spend NT$40 billion [US$1.1 billion] to help people quit gambling?”

The amount of NT$40 billion is calculated based on an estimate by the Penghu County government that casino resorts in Penghu could attract a total of 5 million domestic and foreign visitors. Shih further estimated that only one out of 10 gamblers would be from abroad, making the remaining 4.5 million gamblers Taiwanese.

The Penghu County Government is the most active in seeking casino rights.

Wu Shung-tse (吳雙澤), a native resident of Penghu, strongly opposes the construction of casinos in his home county.

“If we get 5 million visitors a year, Penghu would just sink,” he said, adding that the current number of visitors is only about 500,000 a year. “With that many visitors, the ecosystem will collapse, and the peaceful and quiet lifestyle of Penghu will be changed forever.”

Wu said that a survey conducted a few years ago showed that the issues residents of Penghu cared the most about were public security, education and clean air, while “making big money only ranked fifth on the list.”

However, Wu doesn’t believe that casinos in Penghu would be successful.

“The most possible outcome would be that casinos will eventually fail and so will Penghu,” he said. “Years later when that outcome occurs, the politicians and corporations that benefit from casinos will be gone with their pockets full, and it’s the people of Penghu who will have to face the consequences.”

As a casino referendum will likely be held at the end of the year, Wu and other local anti-casino groups have launched a village-by-village campaign against them.

“We’ve received some positive responses from people who originally supported building casinos. Many have begun to question if casinos are the best thing for Penghu’s development,” Wu said.

Although most people think that casinos are inevitable, Wu remains hopeful.

“The [Penghu] county government held a county-wide referendum on casinos [in 2003] and only 12 percent of the people voted for them, while 9 percent voted against them — so we still stand a chance,” he said.