The failure of the islands of Penghu to take advantage of the potential legalization of casino gaming in 2009, codified in the Offshore Islands Development Act, on Taiwan’s outlying islands opened the door for other locations. But it took until this July, when residents of the islands of Matsu went to the polls, to determine where the country’s first casinos would be located. Voters in Matsu decided to allow casinos by a margin of 57 percent of the 3,136 votes cast.
Matsu is a chain of small islands just 19 kilometers (11 miles) from the Chinese mainland and the province of Fujian, and the large city of Fuzhou, with a population of 7 million. Any Matsu casino industry will be dependent upon customers from that region, rather than from the main island of Taiwan, where connections to Matsu, with a population of just 10,000, are difficult. Matsu already accepts tourists from the mainland via a ferry system.
Former Las Vegas Sands executive Bill Weidner and his Weidner Resorts Taiwan seem to be the front-runner, having already established a location. Weidner, who was heavily involved in the campaign to legalize casinos on Matsu, envisions a mid-sized casino resort on the less-populated of Matsu’s islands, with an investment of $2 billion that would include infrastructure and other resort amenities.
Weidner urged the Taiwan government to act quickly.
“As a gaming expert, I’m confident of turning Matsu into a successful casino resort after those we built in Macau and Singapore,” Weidner told reporters in Taipei.
He also believes that more business can be garnered from the main islands of Taiwan than some experts believe.
“Taiwanese make 1.2 million visits to Macau and contribute between NT$600 million (US$19 million) and NT$900 million in tourism revenue” to the SAR, he said. “That money could stay in Taiwan if it had its own casino resort.”
Weidner will not, however, be the only bidder. Once it becomes clearer what the attitude of the Chinese government will be toward visitation to any Matsu casino(s), the major players in the gaming industry could become involved.
A similar referendum failed three years ago on the Penghu islands, closer to Taiwan. Many observers thought the vote was merely a formality, and the Taiwan government was shocked when it was defeated. Penghu can vote again as early as next September. Some believe the Matsu OK may spur interest in Penghu to authorize casinos there.