Alexa

KMT risks Taiwan in casino gamble

KMT risks Taiwan in casino gamble

Thanks to its three-fourths majority, the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government finally rammed a new statute that would allow offshore islands to set up gambling casinos through the Legislative Yuan on Monday despite protests outside the legislative halls by civic, social and religious reform groups and the objections of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.
In the wake of the passage of this bill, the residents of likely sites, most likely Penghu County, will soon be subjected to an intense propaganda campaign to persuade them to give approval in a referendum to local authorities to find investors to build and operate at least two international class resorts while the central government accelerates construction of needed infrastructure backed by the allocation of no less than NT$30 billion in taxpayer funds.
Such a development threatens to have a serious impact on Taiwan society for benefits that are uncertain at best.
First, the KMT government's apparent belief that liberalizing the establishment of gambling casinos can rescue the Taiwan economy is as futile as climbing a tall tree to find fish since the positive economic benefits would be limited to a small minority of domestic and foreign investors and high flying consumers while the rest of our society will pay an even heftier bill in "externalized" social costs.
We need look no further than the former Portuguese colony of Macau, now a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, to see that the proliferation of casinos and the legalization of gambling have inflicted grave distortions on its industrial and commercial structure, severely exacerbated unequal division of wealth, fostered organized crime and other social ills, all for the sake of the profit of a small minority.
A bad bet for Taiwan
Moreover, the current depression in the world recreation and entertainment market, reflected in the plunge of the stock price of the stock price of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation which operates Macau's largest casino, from over US$122 a share in December 2007 to only US$6.45 per share last week and the fact that Taiwan is already surrounded by casinos in South Korea, Macau, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore breeds serious doubts about the viability of yet another such resort and casino complex on an offshore Taiwan island.
Second, contrary to the myths propagated by KMT planners and self-interested developers, the parachuting of a complex into Penghu will by no means benefit local residents since related commercial and employment opportunities will by no means be given to Penghu residents but instead will be grabbed by international companies and off-island trained staff.
Moreover, just like in similar projects elsewhere in the world, Penghu's special and unique environment will necessarily be ruined and its society afflicted by rising crime rates, the proliferation of prostitution and the expansion of organized crime and money laundering and other social side-effects for which KMT planners have yet to formulate any preventative measures.
These costs will be "external" to the casino's owners and instead will be borne by the Penghu people. Indeed, in most similar casino projects, the host society needs to pay out three dollars for every one dollar made by the casino owners.Third, the establishment of an international resort and casino complex will undoubtedly inflict serious harm to Penghu's sensitive environment, not the least of which will be the laying of kilometers of concrete and cement over its rare wetlands, beautiful beaches, complicated coast and magnificent basalt scenery and unique plants and birds.
Instead of paving over the Wuxuan Rock and Cingluo wetlands, Penghu's long-term development potential lies in ecological, historical and marine tourism with appropriate and careful infrastructure improvement as well as major investments in health and quality of life services.
Fourth, a casino inevitably brings associated services of dubious legality, including the possibility of money laundering, drugs, prostitution and other organized criminal activities, but the KMT government has yet to draft or announce what preventative or corrective "firewalls" will be put into place to control such risks and prevent Penghu society from social and cultural degeneration.
Unable to abandon their obsession with the fantasy that China can be Taiwan's economic savior, KMT government economic policy makers now believe that casinos and gambling can rescue our economy by attracting Chinese investors and tourists.
In the wake of promises of "over six percent growth," the KMT government has rushed cross-strait "deregulation" blind to the risks of integrating Taiwan's advanced economy and democracy into the trap of the authoritarian PRC's "low road."
Now the same myopic planners are spreading visions of a cornucopia of benefits from casinos without mentioning the fact only a few will benefit and without seeing the thousands upon thousands of families that have been ruined by gambling.
We urge Taiwan civic groups and local residents who cherish the right to determine the nature of their development and the character of their society to realize that casinos would be a bad bet and reject any related proposals.