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Thu, Nov 23, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Hong Kong mulls constructing luxury Vegas-style casino


Hong Kong legislators were yesterday mulling the possibility of opening a luxury casino resort to lure more tourists and stop gambling dollars going to neighboring Macau.

The city's pro-business Liberal Party has proposed setting up a tightly-regulated resort on Lantau Island, where the Disney theme park is situated, featuring Hong Kong's first legal casinos.

The proposal is expected to run into fierce opposition from anti-gambling groups, however, who say Hong Kong has enough problem gamblers without adding the extra temptation of casinos.

The casino proposal has been spurred by the success of Macau which has seen visitor number rise by 15 per cent year-on-year since introducing Vegas-style casinos and now generates more money income than the famous Vegas Strip.

Macau's casinos used to have a sleazy reputation but the opening of casinos run by Vegas tycoons has transformed the former Portuguese colony's economy, allowing for tax cuts and huge public spending.

Arguing in favor of the casino resort in a newspaper column yesterday, Liberal Party leader James Tien (田北俊) said legislators would be taking a "rash and unnecessary gamble with Hong Kong's economic future" if they rejected the idea.

"We strongly believe that, by shutting our ears to the idea of casinos, Hong Kong risks being left behind by regional competitors and losing out on a potentially rich stream of tourism, job creation and tax income," he said.

South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Australia already have legal casinos, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand are considering them and Singapore will open two in 2009, he pointed out.

However, the Reverend Wu Chi-wai (胡志偉), head of Hong Kong Gambling Watch which is arguing against the casino resort plan, said problem gamblers were costing Hong Kong a great deal.

His group believes there are more than 270,000 problem gamblers who rack up huge debts and often lose their jobs and families, leaving the city of 6.8 million to pick up the social cost.

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