Taiwan’s ruling party is leaning towards legalizing gambling and establishing a major casino industry. Casino.org reported on Sunday that the Democratic Progressive Party is looking to casinos as a new source of jobs and tourist revenue to the economy. In China, Macau rakes in billions annually from its mega-casinos, and Taiwan thinks it too could attract some wealthy mainland visitors. (Taipei is less than a two hour flight from both Shanghai and Hong Kong, and there are already 60 daily flights.)
Taiwan could really use the boost in investment and jobs. Its GDP growth projections have shrunk for the past four quarters and earlier this month the new government of President Tsai Ing-wen cut Taiwan’s full 2016 growth forecast to just 1.1%. Exports are declining, exacerbated by China’s slowdown and sluggish growth in Europe (plus Brexit’s unknown ramifications).
For the moment, gambling remains illegal in Taiwan, although the legal precedent exists for that to change. Voters approved a referendum in 2009 that gave outlying county islands the right to house casinos. However, so far no island has opted to take advantage of that permission. While a state-run lottery exists, the Taiwanese public is still ambivalent about whether or not it wants casino gambling to become part of society.
The Tourism Casino Administration Act (TCA) has been pending in Taipei for some three years, but legislators have yet to push it through. If it passes, Taiwan should make transparency and accountability first and foremost in its casinos, so it doesn’t become a criminal hub. To its credit, the TCA does include some articles dealing with money laundering and banning certain clientele.
There is a more immediate obstacle to overcome, however. Last year China said
visas would not be issued to travel to Taiwanese gambling resorts. That makes sense to shore up Macau’s dominance, but Taiwan’s casinos could not support themselves by the island’s population alone. President Tsai has also called for lessening Taiwan’s overreliance on the Chinese economy, and that has somewhat cooled ties. Since her election in January, China has slowed the issuance of travel permits to its citizens who want to visit Taiwan, cutting back on a $6.86 billion contribution to the island’s service sector last year. However, this is an issue that could probably be resolved in cross-Strait cooperation with China, as one piece of larger ongoing negotiations.
The bottom line is that there is plenty of gambling money to go around in Asia. If Taiwan wants casinos, it can make them work.