llowing Taiwan to open its first casino in 2019 will see the country start vying with Singapore, the Philippines and even Macau for an Asia business segment worth in the region of us$45-$50 billion annually. The world’s big-name casino operators are already interested as Taiwan sits just across a narrow strait from China, Asia’s top source of gamblers.
The rugged, distant archipelago of Matsu would qualify right away because last year its people voted in favor of operating casinos, which would boost infrastructure and add jobs. With the act in hand, Matsu local officials would know how many casinos are allowed – probably just one or two – and how to evaluate bids. Processing bids plus building a project would equal five years.
“Given that the act could be successfully passed in the beginning of 2014, we optimistically expect that the earliest time the casino could open to the public in Matsu is around 2019,” says Lin Kuo-shian, director-general of Taiwan’s transportation ministry department in charge of gaming.
Matsu’s tourism head Liu Te-chuan is eyeing the same timeframe. A number of household-name casino operators have quietly expressed interest but would need several years following permits to get the land and build out infrastructure, possibly including one of the small archipelago’s two civilian airports, he explains.
One suitor – Weidner Resorts – has fallen quiet after pledging during the vote-yes campaign in 2012 to build a bridge and a new airport. The company run by Sands Corp. ex-president William Weidner has said little about his once ballyhooed plans for a 100-room resort casino in Matsu since a Philippine casino ended its contract in September with his firm Global Gaming Asset Management Group. Other big names are at the table in Matsu, just in the shadows for now. “Weidner has the will, but there are other companies that are waiting for the act to go through parliament,” Liu says. “We don’t know how many will come forward.”
In another chain of Taipei-administered offshore islands, Penghu (aka the Pescadores), the pro-casino camp is gearing up for another voter referendum after a surprise loss in 2009. If that initiative passed on the back of the legislative bill, the 64-islet Taiwan Strait archipelago could see a casino relatively soon. Claremont Partners, based in Isle of Man, owns 27 acres of land there already and would just need to renew permits to build an integrated resort-casino, says the company’s Asia point person Carl Burger. A subsidiary of the same operator aims to open a resort-casino in the Catskill Mountains of New York state.
“Penghu is the only island where no major company apart from Claremont has staked claim,” Burger says. “We continue to conclude that Penghu very much remains a viable location. We anticipate that the supporting Taiwan legislation will finally pass in 2014 and set the stage for gaming operators and investors to enter a new Asian jurisdiction.”