Taiwan’s Penghu rejects divisive casino bid
Residents on Taiwan’s pristine Penghu islands overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to allow casino development Saturday, an issue that has divided communities and politicians.
Supporters were hoping for the green light as Taiwan’s economy stagnates, promising a casino would boost jobs and tourism.
Opponents argued gambling resorts would ruin the natural landscapes of the remote outlying island chain, which has a population of 100,000 and is popular with visitors for its beaches and turtle sanctuaries.
Apart from state-run lotteries, gambling is banned in most of Taiwan and there are currently no legal casinos — although there is a thriving underground gambling network.
However, Taiwan’s outlying islands have been given permission to develop casinos, with a number of caveats, including that local residents agree.
The “no camp” won 81.1 percent of the vote in Saturday’s referendum.
“We are pleased that people came out at the last minute to vote on this critical issue,” said Penghu-born Sheng I-che, head of the pro-environment Tree Party, although he voiced disappointment at the 40 percent turnout.
“It is not how we want to see Penghu develop,” he told AFP.
It is the second time the western archipelago has voted against casino development, having gone to the polls in 2009, when 56.4 percent opposed.
Supporters of the “yes” camp said without casinos Penghu would struggle to develop a more robust local economy.
“As we are unable to get foreign investments, Penghu may never become self-reliant,” said Chuang Kuang-hui of the Penghu Internationalisation Promotion Alliance, which initiated the vote.
Taiwan’s Matsu Islands held a similar vote in 2012 and came out in support of a casino being built.
However, none has ever been developed there because a parliamentary act laying out gaming licensing and regulations, the final stamp for any casino to go ahead, has stalled in parliament.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has taken a staunch anti-gambling stance, and there have also been reservations among some politicians from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).
The DPP said Saturday it respected the results and the government would help Penghu upgrade its tourism industry and infrastructure.
“The overall development should be oriented to ecological, sustainable and cultural demands,” the DPP said in a statement.