Penghu to hold casino referendum next month

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

Sat, Aug 15, 2009 - Page 4

Residents of Penghu County are to vote on Sept. 26 to decide the fate of a controversial proposal legalizing the establishment of casino resorts, a county official announced on Thursday.

“Members of the county’s Election Commission unanimously agreed at a meeting earlier in the day that a public referendum on the long-discussed casino proposal be held on Sept. 26,” Election Commission Secretary-General Chang Jui-tung (張瑞棟) told a press conference. “The referendum will ask voters whether they agree or disagree with setting up an international recreation area in which casinos would be allowed to operate.”

An hour-long public hearing is scheduled to take place on Sept. 16 to allow supporters and opponents of the plan to air their views, Chang said, adding that the hearing would be televised live by a local cable TV station and broadcast several times in the run up to the vote.

As of July 31, the commission had received 3,853 signatures from local residents endorsing the referendum petition, exceeding the required minimum of 3,522, Chang said.

To pass, more than 50 percent of those who take part in the referendum must vote in favor.

Gambling has long been banned in Taiwan, but the Legislative Yuan passed legislation on Jan. 12 to legalize gambling in casinos outside of Taiwan proper.

While some Penghu politicians and businessmen have welcomed the proposal, saying that it would reinvigorate the county’s sluggish economy, many others oppose the proposal out of concern about damage to the natural environment and the social fabric of the county.

Earlier this week, the Tourism Bureau began seeking international consultants to assist in planning facilities and the investment required for casino resorts.

Michael Treanor, chief executive of AMZ Holdings, one of the companies seeking to establish a gaming resort in conjunction with an international operator, said: “Both the referendum and tender announcements are clear indications that Taiwan is the new emerging gaming jurisdiction in Asia. With rapidly increasing Chinese tourism and a strong untapped local market, Penghu could emerge as a Hawaii or Bahamas-style resort destination for the region.”

Consisting of some 90 small islets, the Penghu archipelago is seated off the western coast of Taiwan proper in the Taiwan Strait. Tourism is an important source of revenue for the county’s residents.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STAFF WRITER