Voters on Taiwan’s Kinmen Islands Overwhelmingly Reject Call for Legal Casinos

Posted on: October 30, 2017, 07:15h. 

Last updated on: October 30, 2017, 06:38h.

The people of Kinmen Island in Taiwan spoke loud and clear at the ballot box on what they thought about allowing casinos in their towns. They overwhelmingly rejected a referendum on the matter Saturday by a vote of 21,663 to 2,705.

Protesting casinos in Taiwan
Voters in Kinmen have voted against a proposal that would have allowed construction of a casino on the Taiwanese islands, suggesting that a desire for gambling in the disputed territory might just not be there. (Image: Channel NewsAsia)

The turnout was about 24 percent of the 114,000 residents on the island who were eligible to vote. This was the fourth time since 2009 that an initiative was put on the ballot that would allow casinos to be built on Taiwan’s popular tourist island chain.

This was the first time, however, Kinmen’s people weighed in directly.

Tsai Chun-sheng, a member of the county council, said that having resorts with betting would help boost the local economy. He began a petition drive and managed to collect 5,602 valid signatures, surpassing the 5,178 needed to trigger a referendum on any topic at local government level.

Exception to Taiwan’s Gambling Laws

The chain of islands off the coast of mainland China was occupied by the Ming Dynasty and has remained under control of Taiwan, which considers itself an independent country despite a claim by the People’s Republic of China to the contrary. While gambling is strictly forbidden in Taiwan an exception was made for several outlying islands, where the government in Taiwan’s capitol Taipei lifted the ban in 2009.

The 2009 Offshore Islands Development Act gave six areas outside Taiwan’s main island coast the option to hold local votes to allow casinos. That bill was the result of a two-decade effort for casino legalization, where developers had designs on creating a new Asian gambling destination.

Not everyone was enamored with the possibility of casinos in the area, however. Las Vegas Sands founder Sheldon Adelson has a venue in Macau but sarcastically called the islands as “a place with lots of wind.”

Four Attempts, Three Losses

Almost immediately after the act was signed into law, the first attempt was made to bring gambling to the islands. The Penghu Islands became the first to hold a referendum on the development of a local casino. The residents rejected the casino-resort plan 17,359 votes to 13,397, with a 42 percent turnout of eligible voters.

Proponents waited three years before trying again. This time it was the Matsu Islands.

William Weidner, of Weidner Resorts Taiwan and a US lobbying association Freedom’s Watch, dangled an $8 billion plan to build a casino. They said they would improve local infrastructure, including upgrading the local airport. Voters approved the proposal by 57 percent. While locals voted to allow construction, Taiwan’s legislature still needs to pass a bill legalizing casinos for the project to move forward. That bill has been stuck since 2013, thus stalling the project, despite occasional blips of political interest.

The third attempt was last year when officials put another measure on the ballot in Penghu for voters to consider. They again soundly rejected the referendum by a vote of 20,388 to 6,210, with 40 percent of the electorate turning out.

Saturday’s Kinmen vote was the third time casino supporters have been turned away, leaving the topic of casinos in Taiwan with an uncertain future.