56.4 percent of voters cast ballots against proposition authorizing casinos

Residents of Taiwan’s offshore Penghu County have rejected casinos in the country’s first binding local referendum.

The weekend vote saw a total of 17,359 ballots, or 56.4 percent of all eligible voters, cast against the proposition “Should Penghu set up an international tourism zone accompanied by a casino?” and 13,397 votes, or 43.6 percent, cast in favor. Turnout was estimated at 42 percent of the county’s 73,651 eligible voters.

Central government officials said they respect the people’s decision and said their support for the archipelago’s economic development remains unchanged.

“The referendum was held in a fair and democratic way, and the voters have expressed clearly that they don’t want the gaming industry,” County Magistrate Wang Chien-fa, who supported casinos, told The China Post.

Local businesses backed the proposition and mobilized thousands of people late Friday to travel the island to lobby for it. Religious groups and students warned of the potential dangers of gambling and argued that the economic benefits were overstated.

Said one local tour operator, “[The proposal] failed because the government did not fully and clearly explain the proposal’s complementary measures, and also because most local people are conservative.”

The county government has been pushing to open a casino for nearly two decades, believing it would help the archipelago's flagging economy. Penghu, though famous for its marine ecological resources and various leisure activities, is hampered by very windy weather conditions that shorten the tourism season to about six months a year.

The referendum was held in response to an amendment to the Offshore Island Development Act that was passed by the national Legislature back in January. The amendment paved the way for the outlying islands to set up casinos, subject to local approval.