Word reaches Inside Asian Gaming that Kinmen, an island archipelago hotly tipped to host Taiwan's first casino resort, already has a thriving gaming industry—it's just that it's underground.Sunday, 15 November 2009
IAG's sources say the reason that boatloads of residents from the nearby Chinese mainland currently take the hour-long ferry ride to Kinmen has very little to do with the latter's seaside charm. Kinmen is in fact bristling with concrete blockhouses and military bunkers from the days when Taiwan's former right wing nationalist dictator, Chiang Kai-shek, and his successors expected imminent invasion by his old civil war communist adversary Mao Zedong.
The reason for the Chinese tourists' current interest in Kinmen, according to IAG's moles, is that there are places where they can play baccarat (for money) without the troublesome requirement of sharing the gross with the Taiwan government. Given the number of bunkers and communication tunnels sunk into the earth on Kinmen, some of these establishments may be literally as well as metaphorically, underground.
More visible are the gaming industry training establishments set up on Kinmen by enterprising folk anticipating that Kinmen will have the country’s first above board casino.
"A couple of training schools have already been set up there, I hear," explains one source. "Perhaps they know something we don't," added the source.
Last month, Kinmen overtook Penghu as the frontrunner in the race to become the first place in Taiwan to introduce legalised casino gaming when the residents of Penghu unexpectedly rejected by 17,359 votes to 13,397 a proposal to allow gambling on their islands. A law passed by Taiwan's legislature in January allows gambling offshore, but not on the main island of Taiwan.
The result of Penghu's referendum was a bitter blow to those locals and investors who have been campaigning on and off in government circles for 16 years for the right to allow Penghu to develop one or more casinos. The pro-lobby argued it would extend the tourism season into the winter and boost the flagging local economy.
By contrast, Kinmen, which lies only a few kilometres offshore from the Chinese Mainland, appears keen to get moving with the scheme. Last weekend, the Kinmen county government reportedly held the first meeting of a steering committee to discuss details.
Kinmen votes next
Under Taiwan's current system, Kinmen will also need to hold a referendum before anything can happen.
Environmentalists say Penghu and Kinmen have unspoilt environments. Pro-gaming lobbyists say they're chronically underdeveloped. In both cases, it's because under the isolationist policy in place until 1992, Taiwan turned them into island fortresses against a possible invasion by the PRC. President Chiang Kai-shek reportedly stationed 100,000 troops on Kinmen in a series of underground tunnels and bunkers and there was a curfew after dark.
There's little sign yet, though, that divisions at national political level on casinos have been resolved, despite the big parliamentary majority recorded when the enabling legislation was passed at the beginning of this year. That parliamentary 'yes' may have been more an indication of the ruling government's party loyalty and voting discipline than about genuine enthusiasm for the casino initiative, say some commentators on Taiwanese politics.
While Penghu is in the middle of the Taiwan Strait, Kinmen—153 square kilometres in area—is only a short distance from Xiamen in Fujian province. Since 2001, a boat service has linked Kinmen with the Chinese Mainland. It's been reported that in the last eight years, more than two million PRC residents have made the hour-long trip. Kinmen county is now pressing Taiwan's central government in Taipei to build a bridge costing NT$10 billion (US$310 million) between the two places.