A businessman fronting plans to build Taiwan’s first casino resort in the outlying Penghu Islands has urged the government to hurry up and legislate or risk losing out to Macau and other neighbouring jurisdictions.
In a closed-door meeting a week ago, Taiwan legislators agreed to put their gaming bill to a formal vote, with a majority indicating support, according to Reuters, which quoted an unidentified senior parliamentary aide.
Experienced Taiwan-watchers will know we’ve been down this path previously.
“If Taiwan delays any further, there’s a real risk that it will lose out,” Ashley Hines, President of London-listed AMZ Holdings was quoted as saying in comments reported in the regional media.
AMZ Holdings was the first foreign investor in Penghu when it bought land in 2000 with a view to building a hotel and casino resort.
While Mr Hines is duty-bound to look out for his own commercial interests, he may be underestimating the popularity of gambling in Taiwan. The domestic market is likely to be big enough to support not just one but several casino resorts. There are already 2,500 gaming parlours of all shapes and sizes in Taiwan, plus 250 specialised bingo halls, according to local gaming industry sources to which AGI has spoken.
Taiwan has been playing grandmother’s footsteps over the casino issue for years. President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT) has indicated he will support casinos if the supporters of legislation can achieve the previously mentioned political consensus. That could be easier said than done, despite the Reuters report. But of course no one ever thought Singapore would build casinos. It did, citing a desire to boost GDP through extra tourism.
Picking up on this and Mr Hines’ point, Taiwan is already missing out when it comes to international tourism. Last year, it attracted only 3.7 million visitors compared to Singapore’s 10.3 million and Hong Kong’s 28.2 million visitors.
Currently, half a million visitors a year go to Penghu, which is about 40 minutes by plane from Taipei’s Songshan Airport. The problem is that few visitors go to Penghu during the windy season in winter and spring.
But officials are upbeat about attracting foreigners from surrounding countries like Japan, South Korea and from the cities along China’s eastern coast. They estimate that two to three casinos could help bring in at least three million visitors yearly and add between 35,000 and 100,000 jobs to the local economy.
The locals on Penghu appear to be divided about the issue. A referendum in 2002 showed that 57 percent supported casino plans, with 43 per cent opposing. But the vote was considered invalid, as there was a turnout of just 21 percent.