Opponents are fearful casinos will bring crime to the quiet islands

Penghu residents to vote on casino gambling in August

(Taiwan).- The residents of Penghu were likely to vote in a referendum on casino gambling next August as the government approved a request from the county, the Cabinet said this week.
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The government will prepare a package of accompanying measures because the legalization of casinos was likely to influence the environment, the quality of travel and the law-and-order situation, Cabinet spokesman Su Jun-pin said.

The Penghu County Government applied for the referendum last April 9, but it took various central government departments more than two months to review the application, with a positive response announced on Wednesday.

Suggestions from local politicians that visitors arriving from China be given landing visas were under consideration, Su said, but the reasoning that the measure would increase efficiency was not enough for it to be approved.

Only if the Mainland Affairs Council and the National Immigration Agency approved, could the project go ahead, Su said. Premier Liu Chao-shiuan would visit Penghu tomorrow to inspect the local situation regarding tourism and transportation, the spokesman announced yesterday. According to the local government, at least 3,521 Penghu residents, or 5 % of the voters in the previous election for county magistrate, have to sign a petition before the referendum can go ahead.

Transportation Minister Mao Chi-kuo is likely to chair a gambling supervisory commission made up of vice ministers and experts, modeled on the example of Singapore, experts said.
As soon as Penghu residents approve the establishment of casinos, Mao's ministry is likely to form a management department to supervise Taiwan's move on to the worldwide gambling map.

The Legislative Yuan approved the legalization of casino gaming last January after years of evaluation and fierce debates between supporters and opponents. The supporters see the development of casinos as a way to promote the local economies of outlying islands like Kinmen and Matsu close to China's Fujian Province and Penghu in the middle of the Taiwan Straits.

The opponents, often religious and environmental groups, fear that gambling will bring criminal gangs, prostitution and rising crime to the islands, disrupting their relatively quiet way of life. The advent of casinos will also force more families into a vicious circle of addiction and debt, critics say.

According to the legislation, only two casinos will be allowed in the earliest phase, and they will have to form part of 1,000-room hotel and leisure complexes. A third casino will have to wait 10 years for legalization.

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