Friday, April 24, 2009
What are the odds?
In today's edition of the Daily Yomiuri ザ・デイリー読売, there is an article on the ongoing efforts to set up casinos in the Penghu islands 澎湖 ("Island off Taiwan bets on casino boom"):
"Expectations are high on a small island off Taiwan that it could soon host casino resorts. By building casinos on the island, which has no particular industry other than cobia farming and tourism, Taiwan's Penghu County is seeking to create local jobs and discourage local residents from leaving to find work. Also, the county wants to revitalize the island by attracting more tourists from China as its relations with Taiwan are becoming warmer. However, this get-rich-quick dream might not come easy, as a project of this magnitude requires large improvements in accommodations for tourists, roads and other infrastructure. Also, some people doubt whether the planned casinos would be enough to attract tourists away from long-established gambling hot spots such as Macao."
No one doubts that the people of Penghu need more job opportunities:
"Many people go to Taiwan in search of jobs. About 13,000 people, more than 30 percent of the island's working population, is employed off the island. Among Taiwan municipalities, it has the highest ratio of residents who do not actually work in the town where they live. The Penghu County government is hoping casinos can improve this situation. Though casinos are illegal in Taiwan, a bill to revise a related ordinance passed three months ago to promote remote islands' development, allowing casinos on the islands. The county government, which wants to set up Taiwan's first casinos, plans to conduct a referendum on building casinos in August."
A friend of my wife is one of those economic refugees, now living and working in Tainan 台南. Naturally, there is the lure of Chinese money:
"About 95,000 Chinese tourists visited Penghu Island last year. The county government for now envisions two casinos on the island to attract tourists from the rest of Taiwan, China and also from Japan and South Korea. About 500,000 tourists visit the island mainly from other places in Taiwan, many to sample the island's famed seafood. The county government is aiming for 5 million tourists each year. The county government expects casinos would boost tax revenue by about 2.25 billion New Taiwan dollars (about 6.7 billion yen) and create 10,000 jobs."
Of course, there is much to be done before the dollars start raining down on the good people of Penghu:
"...the island's current accommodation capacity is only for 8,000 people. Also, tourists coming from Japan and South Korea have to transit via Taipei 台北 if they use passenger planes. It is essential to expand and upgrade hotels, airport and port facilities, but it is yet unclear how profitable the casino business will be or how such developments can be financed. 'Tourists who want to enjoy casinos can go to Macao,' said Lin Chang-sing, 59, representative of a 100-member group opposing casino development on the island. 'If casinos are set up, public morals will deteriorate. The authorities should work more on measures to promote tourism focusing on the island's natural environment.' However, many residents still seem very keen to have the casinos."
In the end, casinos will probably be built on Penghu, and just as likely, the promised benefits will not be fully realized. Many of the jobs will probably be low-paying, and unlike casinos on Indian reservations in the U.S., it's unlikely the residents will receive any sort of per-capita profit sharing payouts. It's also not difficult to see all the casino, and casino-related infrastructure, construction (not to mention the anticipated increase in visitors), having a negative effect on the islands' environment. The central government, however, is desperate to make good on all the promises made during last year's presidential election of better days just ahead, so the odds are looking good for gambling resorts to be set up soon.
Meanwhile, the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ carried a Letter to the Editor from one Wen-ching Chu, Director of the Information Division at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office 台北経済文化代表処 in Tōkyō 東京:
"I would like to express my sincere appreciation for Japan's continuous and unwavering support for Taiwan's participation as an observer in the (World Health Assembly). As there are no national boundaries for epidemics like SARS and bird flu, Taiwan can benefit from participating in the WHA by receiving timely information on health related issues...we thank Japan for its endeavor in supporting Taiwan."
Good timing - there's probably a wealth of information on the treatment of problem gambling that could be made available to Taiwanese health care professionals.