Advocates of a ‘yes’ vote in Penghu County’s Saturday referendum on casino gaming in Taiwan are uncertain whether they will see a majority of local public support for an integrated resort on the outlying island chain. They fear a low turnout could be a factor affecting the result.
“I’d expect only about 50 percent of the Penghu voters will take part this time, similar to the turnout at our 2009 referendum,” said Chen Meng, director of a pro-casino resorts grouping known informally as “the internationalisation of Penghu”, in comments to GGRAsia.
A total of 83,469 Penghu residents are eligible to vote, according to the latest figures released by the county’s election commission.
In a September 2009 referendum on the same topic, more than 17,000 Penghu residents – or 56.4 percent of those that bothered to vote – snubbed a proposal to allow casino resorts there.
“Supposing we do see around 40,000 residents come out to vote: in order to allow [the principle of] casino resorts on Penghu, we have to have at least around 21,000 votes,” Mr Chen remarked. “But this time it’s hard to say what will be the outcome,” he added.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), reiterated on Wednesday at a DPP Central Standing Committee meeting the party’s opposition to the opening of casinos in Penghu County. The DPP also currently controls the Penghu County government.
President Tsai said Penghu should focus on developing tourism rather than relying on gambling for local development, Taiwanese media reported, citing DPP spokesman Wang Min-sheng.
“We were surprised by Tsai’s remarks. She should not try to override public opinion,” said the ‘pro’ lobby’s Mr Chen.
“We believe that investment in a casino resort can help promote the tourism business in Penghu…” he stated. “If casino gaming is allowed here, we would like to see that things can be developed as in Singapore. And we will also suggest to authorities to ban Penghu locals from gambling,” added Mr Chen.
The DPP currently controls Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, as well as Taiwan’s presidency, which could make it difficult to bring casino gaming to fruition even if Penghu residents vote ‘yes’, according to an investment analyst.
“Our view is that no matter what happens on Penghu, the government [in Taipei] is unlikely to move forward with a gaming bill. As such, even a “yes” vote in Penghu is unlikely to result in the near-term development of an integrated resort or IRs,” wrote analyst Grant Govertsen of brokerage Union Gaming Securities Asia Ltd in an comment emailed to GGRAsia.
A prohibition on commercial casino gambling – in relation to Taiwan’s outlying island chains of Matsu, of Kinmen and of Penghu – was lifted in 2009 by Taiwan’s government. In a referendum in July 2012, the residents of Matsu voted in favour of casino resorts as a means of attracting tourists and boosting the local economy. But further legislation would be required by Taipei to make such facilities a reality. A ban on casino gaming still applies to Taiwan’s main island.
Mr Chen – a Penghu resident and tour agency boss – claimed that Penghu has better infrastructure and a larger local workforce than Matsu, and that such factors made it a better prospect for international investment. Currently, a majority of local visitor arrivals to Penghu come via domestic flights; those from outside Taiwan that travel to Penghu via direct flights are mainly mainland Chinese visitors on charter flights, Mr Chen added.
Mr Govertsen said his brokerage did not think most international developers would have an interest in Penghu or Matsu.
“Simply put, Beijing has already indicated they [the mainland authorities] will not make it easy for mainland residents to gamble in Taiwan. So the return on investment will be challenging,” Mr Govertsen stated.
“Further, in order to attract the interest of major developers, the licence would need to be in a location like Taipei rather than an offshore island; under the assumption that the majority of customers will need to come from Taiwan if Beijing does not allow mainland residents to gamble there,” the analyst added.
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