Is Matsu game?

Taiwan’s Matsu Islands will vote in a referendum on whether casinos should be allowed Everybody seems to want a piece of the gaming pie in Asia. Taiwan’s outlying Matsu island group, formally Lienchiang County, is gearing up for a July 7 referendum on the issue of gaming. The authorities have received a petition with more than the 385 signatures needed for such a vote. “Should Matsu establish a vacation district with a tourist casino attached?” That is the question. “We hope that the people of Matsu will grant themselves this opportunity by passing the referendum,” Yang Sui-sheng, the elected head of the county, was quoted in the press as saying. He said that allowing for casinos would boost the island group’s economic development. Mr Yang was speaking during a two-day presentation last month by Weidner Resorts, run by former Las Vegas Sands Corp president and chief operating officer William Weidner, on its casino resort project for Matsu. According to a report from online publisher Gaming Compliance, the bid might have secured the county government’s support. With the referendum date marked down as July 7, anti-gaming activists are saying this would unfairly benefit pushes for a “yes” vote. They say the date coincides with school holidays, and many teachers and public servants, who are said to largely oppose gambling, would likely be away from Matsu. Weidner Resorts’ subsidiary in Taiwan has also been accused of violating vote-buying rules by giving out tablet computers, digital cameras and MP3 players as gifts in raffles at the end of its two-day public presentation of the project. No guarantees The meetings were said to have been “fully attended”, with county government employees reportedly assisting Weidner Resorts staff in handing out information packs and other tasks. Lin Chung-chao, head of the Lienchiang County Chamber of Commerce, which submitted the petition for the casino referendum, said that the Taiwanese central government did not care about remote Matsu’s transportation issues. This, he added, forced the island to turn to the corporate sector for development opportunities. Weidner Resorts has pledged to help fund the construction of a bridge, upgrade the airport to an international facility, fund construction of a new university and develop a welfare fund for the island’s residents. Councillor Lee Chin-mei warned that voting “yes” in the referendum could mean a deterioration in law and order and an influx of drugs and prostitution into Matsu. The Ministry of Transportation and Communications is revising a draft law that covers the operations of offshore casinos and the wider investment parameters and other requirements for the integrated resorts that will contain them. However, it is not clear whether Weidner Resorts’ current proposal would meet the requirements of the law, if it is passed.