Taiwan election brings police scrutiny, casino uncertainty; Macau slot parlor ban

taiwan-electionPolice in Taiwan are investigating online gaming site FunTown for allegedly violating the nation’s election law. Prior to the country’s Jan. 14 presidential election, FunTown ran a game called “The People’s Big Prediction” in which players could wager points on who would win the 2012 presidential race. While the game was only online for five days, over one million bets were placed on the outcome during this window. Police say this effectively amounted to a public poll, which, under Taiwanese election law, is not permitted within 10 days of the actual vote. FunTown voided all bets, refunded the money of players who bought points to participate in the game, and is cooperating with the authorities’ investigation.

The official Taiwanese ballot resulted in the re-election of President Ma Ying-jeou, whose Kuomintang (KMT) party also retained its comfortable majority in the legislature. The KMT have been strong supporters of plans to open destination casinos on some of Taiwan’s outlying islands, and their continued grip on the levers of power will come as good news to the many casino companies looking to submit bids. But while the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and its Tourism Bureau sub-agency finish hashing out drafts of the relevant legislation, some plans may yet get bogged down in committee. GamblingCompliance.com’s Martin John Williams points to the surprise upset of a five-time incumbent on the island of Penghu (one of the favored spots tapped for casino development) by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Yang Yao, who’d campaigned in part on an anti-casino platform. Penghu residents had previously rejected the casino concept in a 2009 referendum.

Melco Crown, just one of the companies itching to enter the Taiwanese casino market once the country announces its ready to accept bids, just got some (minor) bad news from Macau authorities. The Special Administrative Region government has decided to prohibit slot machine parlors from operating in residential parts of the SAR, effective at the end of March. There are only two operators currently running such establishments in Macau, and only two of these joints are located in residential areas. Melco will be required to close one of its nine ‘Mocha’ clubs, while SJM Holdings will have to close one of its ‘lounges’. The Las Vegas Review-Journal quoted Union Gaming Group principal Grant Govertsen as saying the closures will have “virtually no impact” on the two companies’ forecasted cash flow.