July 9, 2012 / 10:57 AM / 8 years ago

Taiwan island votes yes for first casino resort

(Reuters) - A referendum in a small island group on Saturday has paved the way for Taiwan’s first casino, welcome news for global gambling companies keen to expand in Asia’s fast growing casino industry.

Almost 57 percent of Matsu’s voters opted in favour of government plans to build a casino, Taiwanese media reported.

Las Vegas players including Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands (LVS.N) and MGM Resorts (MGM.N) have been among the many companies keen on setting up a resort in Taiwan given its close proximity to China and large markets such as Korea and Japan.

Gambling is illegal in Taiwan but an amendment passed in 2009 permitted building casino resorts on offshore islands.

Matsu, named after a Chinese sea goddess, is home to 8,000 people and is a 30-minute ferry ride from China’s Fujian province.

Residents in favour of a casino resort say it would boost infrastructure and help develop islands’ tourism industry.

Matsu is one of the smallest of the offshore island groups that the Taiwanese government has enabled to vote for casinos in local referendums.

Residents of the Penghu Islands, off the western coast of Taiwan, in 2009 rejected plans to build a casino there.

Analysts say a casino in Matsu would have minimal impact on gambling revenues in Macau which is located on China’s southern coast. It is also not clear how easy it would be for Chinese citizens to get visas to travel to the Taiwanese islands.

“Five percent of overall visitation to Macau is from Taiwan, and Matsu is less conveniently located from Taipei than Macau,” Macau and Las Vegas-based Union Gaming said in a note.

Weidner Resorts Taiwan, a company run by former Las Vegas Sands executive Bill Weidner, has unveiled plans to build a casino resort that includes luxury hotels, professional sports venues and convention halls.

Opponents of plans for a casino on Matsu say such a development could disrupt the tranquil nature of the islands as well as increasing crime and pollution. (Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Pravin Char)

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