US gaming outfit Weidner Resorts has significantly upgraded its vision for a resort casino complex on Taiwan’s Matsu island chain, but the increasingly strident tone voiced by chairman/CEO William Weidner is apparently rubbing some Taiwanese politicians the wrong way. At a press conference in Taipei on Wednesday, Weidner unveiled the dramatically expanded version of the Matsu project. Whereas the original plan envisioned villas to accommodate 2k casino guests, Weidner’s new plan shows clusters of 30-floor hotels that would offer a total of 26k rooms; a sum equal to Macau’s capacity. Once the project’s first phase opens, Weidner projects annual visits totaling 5m to 7m people, rising to 30m in another 15 years.
Weidner revealed that his company has allocated $2.5b to develop the infrastructure to support a resort casino. Weidner says the allocation, which is backed by Bank of America, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse, removes the biggest obstacle facing the proposed $8b project in the underdeveloped Matsu region. The infrastructure money will primarily go toward upgrading Matsu’s Beigan airport to accommodate larger aircraft, as well as construction of a bridge connecting Beigan and Matsu’s Nangan islands, a ferry harbor and a yacht terminal. Weidner signed a memorandum of understanding with Hong Kong-based ferry operator Chu Kong Passenger Transport in December that will provide mass transport links between Matsu and Fuzhou, the capital city of China’s Fujian province and home to over 7m people.
A week ago, Weidner lashed out at Taiwanese politicans’ foot-dragging on passing the necessary casino legislation that would legitimize the Matsu project. While Matsu’s residents indicated their support of the casino plans in July, the central government has indicated the earliest such legislation could be passed would be by this summer, but Weidner has threatened to take his billions to other countries in the region if Taiwan doesn’t get its legislative act together. Weidner now says he wants a request for proposal (RFP) process to be held in tandem with the casino legislation passage, saying his company’s plans would be a “waste of time” if the two processes aren’t walking “hand in hand.”
On the weekend, the China Post quoted Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou saying the central government would do what was necessary to accelerate Matsu’s tourism and transportation development. Ma made the comments on a visit to Matsu with Transport Minister Mao Chi-kuo, who said a draft of the gambling law would be submitted to the Cabinet by the end of the month, and hopefully reviewed by the legislature after the winter break.
Meanwhile, the image of pro-development Matsu elders kneeling and weeping at Weidner press conferences is beginning to irk some of Taiwan’s more nationalistic politicians and media outlets. The United Daily News said it preferred not to see “ordinary people asking for a ‘safe road home’ from foreign developers.” The China Post ran an op-ed questioning why Taiwan’s government should tolerate the Weidner ultimatum, saying there was “simply no reason to swallow our pride and play an obsequious Mr. Nice Guy” when foreign investment opportunities presented themselves. “If Weidner Resorts Taiwan has the money and the expertise, others also will have them if there is money to make.”
Speaking of, GamblingCompliance reported that Caesars Entertainment’s president of international development Steve Tight visited the Kinmen archipelago adjacent to Matsu on Tuesday to discuss investment plans with the Kinmen County Council. A similar visit was paid to Kinmen earlier this month by Taiwan’s Howarm Construction, the only local firm to express interest in acquiring a casino license. Accompanying the president of Howarm on this visit was Jack Lam, the chairman of junket operator Jimei Group. Meanwhile, politicians in Penghu are reportedly planning another kick at the casino referendum can. The last such effort in 2009 was rejected by the locals.