TAIPEI ( TheStreet) -- A voter referendum approved this month legalizes casinos for the first time on islets in the ocean strait separating Taiwan from China. And China lives to gamble -- beats the corrupt local bank or the cold returns of today's stock markets -- yet the Communist government doesn't allow casinos.
For that reason, casino operators from Las Vegas, Macau and even London had been working behind the scenes for more than a decade to open gambling on the islets controlled by Taiwan, an easy mark for Chinese tourists. On July 7, they won their first hand, as the economically depressed 10,000-population islets of Matsu (This link will take you to an outside source.) voted to let officials issue casino permits.
Casino operators with Asia properties are doing well in the financial markets because of their large, increasingly wealthy China clientele, and whoever gets permits for the Taiwan Strait will join them.
William Weidner (This link will take you to an outside source.), former president of Sands Corp. (who evidently left on bad terms), is the only one pushing publicly so far for permits to build a resort-casino on Matsu's rugged islets within eyesight of China's well-to-do Fujian province.In the view of other operators, Matsu breaks the ice into more developed Taiwan-controlled offshore islands, such as Kinmen and the Pescadores. Voters there may take Matsu as a cue to pass their own casino initiatives. Chinese tourists, allowed en masse since 2008 as political relations improved, already go to the outlying islands of Taiwan for sightseeing, though Matsu lacks the infrastructure to support a resort-casino. Kinmen (This link will take you to a different site.) and Matsu sit within easy reach of China by ferry. And what's the extra distance anyway to the Chinese who are so hot to bet that they'll go as far as Singapore (This link will take you to a different site.) or cross into a special economic zone of North Korea? China contributed to most of Macau's revenues of $33 billion in 2011, and the nation's lottery revenue is estimated at a monthly $2 billion to $3 billion, says Marcus Clinch, a lawyer with Eiger Law who follows gaming in Taiwan.