July 16-22, 2012
Anti-gambling group suspects Matsu casino referendum was rigged
Reported by Lin Yi-ying
Written by Lydia Ma
On July 7, 2012, a referendum in Matsu on whether or not to build a casino on the islet resulted in 1795 people voting in favor of the initiative and 1341 people voting against it. The result of this referendum was a great disappointment to many anti-gambling associations such as the Alliance Against the Legalization of Gambling (AALG). These associations protested in front of the Agency Against Corruption in the morning of July 10. They also called a press conference and claimed that Lienchiang County (also known as Matsu County) Commissioner Yang Sui-sheng had violated administrative neutrality and skewed the result of the referendum.
Though the referendum passed, the AALG vowed to call a new referendum in 3 years’ time when it will be allowed to do so legally. It also said that preventing a casino in Matsu would also prevent casinos from springing up all over Taiwan. AALG’s executive director Ho Tsung-hsun and its convener Buddhist Master Shih Chao-hui, as well as PCT Church and Society Committee Secretary Huang Che-yen and Green Party spokesperson Pan Han-shen were also present at this protest.
According to AALG, Yang failed to maintain administrative neutrality by publishing many articles in support of gambling casinos on Matsu Daily and telling readers that it was the only way to boost tourism in Matsu. In addition, Yang’s close ties with Weidner Resort Development has raised suspicions that he may have influenced the result of the referendum.
Ho said that though the referendum passed in Matsu, whether proponents will be able to build a casino is another story entirely. “We will never give up on Matsu!”, cried Master Shih Chao-hui. She added that whether or not a casino is built in Matsu is not merely a matter of local concern, but a matter of national concern. If Matsu is lost to casino tycoons, it will only be a matter of time before casinos are built in other regions of Taiwan. According to AALG, these casino tycoons ultimate goal is to set up casinos in Kaohsiung and Taipei and offshore islands are merely a means to that end.
PCT Church and Society Committee Secretary Huang Che-yen said that though it may seem like those who opposed casinos lost in this referendum, that is not the whole story. He underscored that he saw many students, teachers, school principals, mothers, civil servants step forward in the days leading up to the referendum and actively campaign against gambling. These are signs of hope, he said, spurring us to continue to take a stand against casino corporations’ empty promises and the government’s misleading marketing strategies to promote gambling.
In related news, the Matsu Wild Bird Association and the Chinese Wild Bird Federation stated in the aftermath of the referendum that the island should concentrate on developing eco-tourism instead of casino resorts. These organizations pointed out that Matsu is renowned for its ecology and natural beauty. It is also the home of the Chinese Crested Tern, a critically endangered bird species which was found in Matsu in 2000. These features are the pride of Matsu and should be highlighted instead of ignored. However, the Ma administration has purposely overlooked Matsu’s ecological strengths and allowed Yang and casino tycoons to push for a referendum under the pretext that casinos were the only means to invigorate the local economy.
These organizations also stated that many advantages, disadvantages, and effects of building a casino resort were not properly understood by local residents. With that in mind, it is a shame that the referendum passed because of such poor understanding on the part of voters. These organizations urged that economic development in Matsu should focus on small local attractions instead of resorts financed by corporations. It also added that such constructions would negatively affect the local ecosystem as well as the beautiful landscape of the island.