The voices of those for and against casinos were heard outside and inside the Legislative Yuan yesterday, with proponents highlighting the economic benefits of casinos and opponents focusing on the social and environmental downside.
About 400 residents of Matsu, Kinmen and Penghu rallied outside the building as the legislature’s Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the draft act governing the management of the resorts with casinos (觀光賭場管理條例).
The islanders urged the government to respect the results of the referendum in Matsu last year in favor of the construction of casinos there and expedite the review of the draft act.
They presented a written petition to Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who went outside to accept it. Some of the demonstrators knelt in front of him, pleading with him to help get the draft passed quickly.
Matsu native Chang Long-guang (張龍光), who has won two Golden Bell awards for best TV series screenplay, said yesterday was the first time he had taken to the streets to fight for his right of survival since he began living on Taiwan proper 20 years ago.
“Many of the villages in Matsu have been abandoned for years. Why do you think that people want to leave their hometown and live on Taiwan instead? If the transportation issue is not solved, I am afraid I will not be able to have my coffin delivered back to Matsu when I die,” Chang said.
The islands’ residents were just trying to find ways to survive by voting yes on the gambling referendum, he said.
In the committee hearing, both the pros and cons of the issue were expressed by lawmakers, experts and government officials.
Liu Day-yang (劉代洋), a professor at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology’s Graduate Institute of Finance, cited the experiences of Macau and Singapore to show the advantages casinos could bring to the nation.
Macau will soon become the No. 1 entertainment capital in Asia, while the crime rate in Singapore decreased after casinos were built on Sentosa island because the casinos hired security guards to help maintain order.
Independent Legislator Chen Hsuen-sheng (陳雪生), who represents Lienchiang County (including Matsu), said people on Matsu do not have transport options like the high-speed rail or the Wugu-Yangmei Overpass, and having a casino resort would provide an opportunity to improve the island’s transportation system.
While many were concerned that gambling would make the government more corrupt, the actions of former Chinese politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來) showed corruption exist even in places where gambling is banned, Chen said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said the government must have comprehensive regulations and policies in place before any casino opens, especially ones to deal with gambling addiction.
She also asked what the government would do to help families who fall into debt because of gambling, since they would not qualify for assistance as low-income households under the Public Assistance Act (社會救助法).
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan minister Huang Che-yen (黃哲彥) and former Green Party spokesperson Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) both said that legalizing casinos does not mean illegal gambling would cease to exist.
Matsu is the only place in Taiwan that has approved a referendum to permit gambling.
Kinmen County Government Deputy Commissioner Wu You-qin (吳友欽) said Kinmen residents have neither supported nor rejected casino resorts, adding that many of them are waiting for the government to pass relevant legislation first.
The Cabinet’s draft act for the management of casino resorts only lists the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例) as the legal basis for the establishment of casinos. However, Chinese Nationalist Party Legislator (KMT) Alex Tsai (蔡正元) has proposed adding the phrase “and other relevant acts” in the first article of the act, which would expand the areas where casinos could be established.
KMT Legislator Chen Ken-te (陳根德) proposed allowing casinos to be built within the Taoyuan Aerotropolis project.
The proposals will be reviewed by the committee in detail today.