Residents of the outlying Taiwanese island of Matsu have officially opened their arms to the idea of hosting Taiwan's first legal casino and earning a robust living in catering to gamblers from mainland China 岸 after voting in favor of an 'integrated resort' that promises to transform the island. But is the deal too good to be true?
In a referendum on over the weekend, 56% of Matsu's 3,162 eligible voters cast their ballots in favor of allowing a casino on the island, opening the door to a $2-billion proposal that includes upgrades of the island's ports and airports, an abundance of job opportunities 岸 and monthly stipends of up to NT$80,000 ($2,670) for all people registered as Matsu residents at the time of the referendum.
Weidner has also said it plans to build a university on the island and establish a welfare fund for locals.
Ho Jung-shin, a professor of journalism at National Taiwan University, said in an editorial published in the China Times that the estimated yearly tax revenues of NT$15.5 billion after five years is tempting and alluring, but he cautioned that those projections are based on the risky assumption that China would allowe its gamblers to come to Matsu uninterrupted for years to come.
Cross-strait ties have improved significantly since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, a proponent of increased engagement with Beijing, was elected in 2008. As a good-will gesture, China in the same year lifted a ban on tourists coming to Taiwan. Roughly 1.8 million Chinese citizens visited Taiwan in 2011, making them the largest group of foreign tourists to island, according to Tourism Bureau statistics.
However, Taiwan's growing economic dependency on China is also worrisome to many because Beijing could turn off the tourist tap at will 岸 as it did for a few months after September 2009, when the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung hosted the Dalai Lama over Beijing's objections.
Others have wondered whether Matsu would be able to compete against Macau, a gambling haven that already has a steady stream of clients from China, and expressed worries about crime and other social problems typically associated with gambling.
Such concerns still matter because, in order for a casino to be built on Matsu, Taiwan first has to pass the Gambling Act, a bill currently in draft form that would legalize gambling under certain circumstances.
William Bryson, an attorney at Jones Day who has been working on the draft legislation for the past two decades, argues that stringent licensing process put in place by the Nevada Gaming Commission have made the global gaming industry highly self-regulated. As long as the gambling legislation adopts the strictest provisions, he says, it won't be hard for Taiwan 'to keep the bad guys out and the good guys in.'
Calling the passage of the referendum on Matsu 'a paradigm shift,' Mr. Bryson predicted the vote would 'highly accelerate' the legislative process and even rekindle casino operators' interests in other Taiwanese islets that faded after a similar referendum flopped in Penghu in 2009.
The supporters of the Gambling Act are hoping the draft will be put in front of the legislature by the end of the year. But despite saying it respects the will of the Matsu people, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party has nevertheless promised to oppose the bill, which means legalized gambling in Taiwan could remain a distant possibility for some time.
Weidner Resorts Taiwan怀德度假村台湾网站的电脑截屏，网站显示怀德度假村计划把马祖建成一处综合度假村。开发商怀德度假村（Weidner Resorts）承诺将把这个经济落后、在严格军事控制下的群岛变为“亚洲的地中海”，并称完工时将建成五星级酒店、名厨掌勺的餐馆、娱乐场所、高端购物中心等等，当然也包括赌场。
国立台湾大学（National Taiwan University）的新闻学教授何荣幸在《中国时报》（China Times）上发表的一篇社论中称，五年后，估计年税收收入将为155亿新台币，这一数字十分诱人，但他也警告，这些预测基于一个有风险的假设，即中国大陆允许赌客未来不间断地前往马祖。
众达律师事务所（Jones Day）的律师威廉·布赖森（William Bryson）在过去20年中一直参与起草这项法案，他认为，内华达州赌博委员会（Nevada Gaming Commission）实施的严格审批程序已经让全球赌博业高度自律。他说，只要赌博法采用最严格的条款，台湾“将坏人挡在门外，将好人请进门来”就不是一件难事。