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September 24, 2017

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Matsu, gov't should see through 'sweet' casino deal

The central government seems to be distancing itself from the prospect of Taiwan's first legal casino.

Minister of the Interior Lee Hung-yuan expressed his concerns over the setting up of casinos in Lienchiang County, better known as Matsu, days after local residents approved in a referendum the construction of a gaming resort. The interior minister, seen by the Executive Yuan as the ideal regulator for the gaming industry, warned that the resort project in Matsu will be challenged by the four insufficiencies of water, energy, transportation and land.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs pointed out on Thursday that unlike Matsu residents and other local businesses, the future special gaming district will not enjoy the preferential water and electricity prices given to the outlying island. That means the district would have to pay in full for the relatively costly NT$16.15 per kilowatt-hour power fees (compared to the discounted price of NT$3.11 per kilowatt-hour for other Matsu users) and NT$80 per ton in water fees (for which the discounted price is around NT$11 per ton). Alternatively, it could look for alternative water and power sources. Lee suggested the construction of the nation's first tidal power plant in Matsu while other government officials suggested a new desalination plant as a possible solution.

These facilities, added with the 2.5-km bridge connecting the Matsu islands of Nangan and Beigan, and the tourism and hotel management university promised by prospective casino developer Weidner Resorts, will greatly advance Matsu's development. They and the casino itself will bring jobs to the county. The developers have promised a 100-percent recruitment rate for local residents, who will receive at least NT$18,000 per person per month in social benefit handouts during the resort's first year of operations.

The central government's less-than-enthusiastic response may reflect its ambivalence in tackling the thorny issue of gambling concessions — remember, gambling was illegal in the nation prior to the introduction of the "gaming development for outlying islands clause" three years ago, which allowing local residents to decide via referendum, and it is still illegal on Taiwan's main island. Hopefully, however, it is a collective poker face pulled off on the government's part to bargain for more preferential terms for Matsu.

No matter what the case may be, the government should demand more from interested developers in addition to jobs and infrastructure.

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