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September 21, 2017

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Matsu's casino considerations should take a look at Macau

Residents of Lienchiang County decided in a referendum earlier this year to build a gaming resort in Matsu, a group of islets located just a few miles off the southeast coast of China, to finance its infrastructure updates and to jumpstart its economic development.

As part of building the islands' credentials as a center for gambling and leisure tourism as well as to prepare for the introduction of a casino, the Lienchiang County Government earlier this week that the county will hold a mahjong championship next year in Matsu, an archipelago with a combined area of some 29 square kilometers and a population of no more than 10,000 according to the latest count.

The county's Tourism Bureau said the preliminary round of contests will begin in January, with the finals scheduled to take place on Feb. 3. The total purse will be NT$2 million, with the winner to receive a prize of NT$1.5 million and be crowned mahjong king or queen.

Anti-gambling activists have argued that because the Legislature has yet to pass legislation governing gambling and its related activities, the mahjong competition would be illegal.

Their argument, of course, is sound and well-meaning, but may seem a bit too "technical" to dissuade people from joining something they might consider to be trivial, like a mahjong competition. After all the islanders' sacrifices and privations in the turbulent decades when the island group was the country's first line of defense against a Chinese Communist invasion, and given no other viable alternatives are in sight, lawmakers would be hard put to deny them a shortcut to prosperity by throwing the book at them. Also, is lottery not gambling?

Furthermore, Lienchiang County Magistrate Yang Sui-sheng is arguing that Matsu residents have chosen gambling tourism as a key component of the islands' future development and decided to use the introduction of resort casinos as a way to improve Matsu's transportation infrastructure.

Well, anyone who dreams of becoming a Monte Carlo citizen should be told to first take a look at Macau, formerly a Portuguese colony but now a Chinese special administrative region at the mouth of the Pearl River, and learn what is at stake. Matsu residents should be reminded that their decision could be a trade-off that they might one day regret, as some Macau citizens do. In some quarters, Macau, a small peninsula with a small population, is called the "Monte Carlo" of the Orient.

Before Macau was handed over to China, there were a few casinos in the quiet, peaceful Portuguese colony about the size of Matsu, which attracted tourists from neighboring Hong Kong, mostly on weekends. Alongside the casinos, the wide variety of cuisines on offer and the land's "South European" architectural style also attracted visitors.

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