Religious Leaders Oppose Legalized Gambling On Outlying Taiwanese Islands

UCAN, January 26, 2009

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan of Taipei was among a group of religious and civic leaders who staged a sit-in protest here against passage of a law to legalize gambling venues on Taiwan's outlying islands.

The alliance of 30 Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant and civic groups protested outside Taiwan's legislature building in Taipei on Jan. 12, the day the law was passed. Even with the law, each individual island must hold a local referendum and gain approval from at least half the island's residents before any gambling venues could be built.

Venerable Chao Hwei, who initiated the alliance, told UCA News the following day that she had opposed the move ever since debate on the issue began in 1993.

The Buddhist nun acknowledged that many Chinese are fond of gambling and some people used this to lobby for the legalization of gaming establishments. She said they had argued that "gamblers will gamble outside Taiwan anyway, but the government could tax them if they gambled [here]." However, she asserted the social costs would outweigh any benefits.

Archbishop Hung, a native of Penghu, a major outlying island, told UCA News he personally supports Venerable Chao's appeal and prayed with the alliance to show his support.

"Avarice, laziness and relying on luck are not good," stated the archbishop, president of the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference in Taiwan.

"Catholic teachings should teach children to distinguish right from wrong. If gambling is presented as something good and legalized, I really don't know what we should teach children in the future," he remarked.

Father Chou Jung, a newly ordained priest from Taipei, and Father Joseph Chen, who heads Kinma apostolic administration, which covers the major outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu, joined the protest as well.

The alliance's notice for the sit-in cited the example of cities in the United States that have legalized gambling. It claimed the social costs have outweighed financial benefits in terms of tax revenue. Those cities have seen the number of addicted young gamblers increase fivefold each year, and also top the country in crime, suicide and divorce rates, the notice added.

Venerable Chao, professor of Religion at Buddhist-run Husan Chuan University, told UCA News that in the past only affluent people could afford to travel outside Taiwan to gamble. Were casinos built on Taiwan itself, however, even the middle and lower class would have easy access to them, and this would in turn harm society, she stressed.

The Buddhist nun wants a referendum open to all 23 million people of Taiwan, not only to residents of each island, which she maintains would violate the law on referendums. She pointed out the casinos would be open to all of Taiwan's people.

The alliance has called for an island-wide demonstration in March, ahead of the scheduled April referendum on Penghu. The group is demanding open debates and referendums on the issue, which it says affects the wellbeing of all Taiwanese.

The sit-in notice acknowledged it would be hard to ban gambling completely. "But if the government turns it into a formal industry, it would only increase the number of addicted gamblers, and bring greater harm to society."

It added that the law's passage would impact Taiwan in areas such as the economy, culture, education, family life, social order and ecology.

Some government officials have suggested the negative effects can be minimized if social order on the islands is well maintained. To this claim Venerable Chao posed the question: "Do you think crimes will only occur on the islands if the gamblers lose all their money?"

The sit-in notice also claimed that casinos are known to be the best venues for money laundering. In this respect, corrupt officials in mainland China or Taiwan might use them as a way of laundering bribe money, thus turning Taiwan into "a special region of China for money-laundering."
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