On Monday, Taiwan's parliament, dominated by the ruling party, pushed through a controversial bill that lifts the decade-long ban on casinos in the Buddhist country - despite protests that gambling would wreck the nation's public morality like it did elsewhere.
The ruling Kuomintang ie the KMT, who dominate the legislature, pushed through the law at a vote of 71-26 allowing offshore islands to build casinos only if they are approved by residents in referenda.
Advertisement"This is one of the political agendas listed on the campaign platform of President Ma Ying-jeou last year," Kuomintang parliamentarian Lin Tsang-min said.
President Ma, who took office in May, must sign the bill before it takes effect.
The Cabinet will set up a committee to work out detailed measures stipulating the governing of casinos, such as the number and size of casinos to be licensed and the minimum capital for casinos.
The Kuomintang government said the move would boost the income of the poor offshore islands by attracting tourists.
"It would certainly be a boost to the offshore islands' competitive edge in tourism and land development," Lin said, referring to Penghu, the island group located in the middle of the Taiwan Strait which is the most likely venue for the first casinos.
If the casinos are built there, Penghu would attract half a million tourist visits each year, generating 100 billion Taiwan dollars (3.0 billion US) worth of revenues in gambling and tourism, according to an evaluation study prepared by Taiwan's top economic planning body Council for Economic Planning and Development.
Casinos and related businesses could create up to 50,000 jobs for Penghu residents, it estimates.
British developer AMZ Holdings Plc, a developer looking to establish a casino-hotel resort on Penghu, said that it "has spent a considerable period of time assembling land in Penghu," according to Dow Jones Newswires.
"The Company's landholdings exceed the initial indications for the minimum land requirement required for the successful application of a gaming license, and the Company's property is fully approved for the commencement of development of a resort," Dow Jones cited the company as saying.
However, the bill's approval was not without controversy.
Outside parliament, dozens of demonstrators, many of them Buddhist monks and nuns, braved chilly winds and staged a sit-in protest.
"The bill is sure to pollute people's minds," a protester said.
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ridiculed the Kuomintang government's hope of building Penghu into a gaming hub to compete with the southern Chinese enclave of Macau.
"First is gambling, then come pornography and crimes," DPP legislator Tien Chiu-chin said, adding that "gambling is not likely to solve economic problems".
Local media speculated that the world's casino giants would pour money into Penghu after they were hammered elsewhere by the global financial crisis.