Presidential Office Denies

Taipei, March 8 (CNA) The Presidential Office said Thursday that President Chen Shui-bian never made any promises to a U.S. firm concerning the establishment of casinos on Taiwan’s offshore Penghu Islands.
In a formal statement, the Department of Public Affairs of the Presidential Office denied categorically that Chen promised Selbon G.

Andelson, chairman of the Las Vegas-based Venetian Group, that the U.S. firm could invest and develop casinos on Penghu.

Presidential public affairs officers said Interior Minister Chang Po-ya misquoted Chen by saying at the Legislative Yuan Wednesday that the president agreed during a meeting with Andelson Oct. 26, 2000, that the Venetian Group could invest some US$2.5 billion in Penghu to build casinos.

The officials said Chen expressed agreement when Andelson said that Las Vegas operators have redefined the term “gambling city” as meaning a Mecca of entertainment, with operations ranging from golfing, shopping, and restaurants to show business and international conferences, in addition to gaming and gambling.

Chen said as an island country, Taiwan should develop its own international, ocean tourism. He said he hopes that Andelson’s investment will enable Taiwan’s tourism industry to become part of global tourism links, the officials noted.

Meanwhile, Premier Chang Chun-hsiung said the Executive Yuan has not made any decisions on whether offshore casinos should be opened.

He noted that the issue is currently under evaluation, adding that President Chen has no fixed stance on the issue but will respect the decisions that the Cabinet makes.

Terrifying new thrill ride

he Stratosphere hotel-casino, already home to what many consider to be the most terrifying thrill ride in the city, is considering a new ride that may be every bit as scary.

Thousands of people ride the Big Shot, a ride that blasts thrill-seekers 160 feet skyward in two seconds up the tower’s 228-foot mast extending like a needle from the top of the tower. Not quite as intimidating is the High Roller, a roller coaster whose tracks make three orbits of the tower’s summit at about 30 mph.

Richard Brown, chief operating officer of the Stratosphere, said the company is exploring a new thrill ride that would drop people more than 700 feet down the side of the tower.

As proposed by the company, the as-yet-unnamed attraction would be what is known in the theme park industry as a “free-fall” ride.

The ride would be loaded at the lower end of the tower and would take passengers on an elevator ride along the tower’s exterior to the 740-foot level — about three-quarters of the way up. The ride would be mounted on the tower’s east side, affording views of the Strip and downtown.

At the peak of the climb, the carriage would then move to a J-shaped track where it would drop straight down in a free fall. At the lowest end of the J, the track would cross over Las Vegas Boulevard.

Brown said the proposal is under review and it would take several months for approvals, engineering and construction.

Regulation needed

Despite initial opposition, major U.S. gaming companies are considering establishing online casinos. But without changes in the law and effective regulations, gambling on the Internet won’t be a hand played by traditional casino operators, industry executives say.

Consistent regulatory standards, licensing and taxes are needed to make Internet gambling legitimate, industry analyst Marc Falcone, vice president of Bear Stearns, told those attending the two-day American Gaming Summit on Friday.

There are numerous unresolved issues including minors, security and credit, said Brian Sandoval, Nevada Gaming Commission chairman.

“We don’t know,” he said. “But I think the time has come for Nevada to begin an earnest study of Internet gaming. We need to be able to make an informed decision.”

Internet gambling is illegal in Nevada, in line with the U.S. Justice Department, which says the 1961 Wire Act prohibits it.

But Assemblywoman Merle Berman, R-Las Vegas, is drafting a bill to legalize and regulate the operation of gambling Web sites based in Nevada. She said Nevada needs to beat the New Jersey Legislature to be the first state to legalize and regulate Internet gambling.

Tony Cabot, a top Nevada gambling industry attorney and author of the “Internet Gambling Report,” said there is only a one- to two-year window for the first state to begin issuing Internet gambling licenses, adding it will be difficult to play catch-up.

Comparing it to alcohol, prohibition of Internet gambling, or “e-gambling” won’t work, said Frank Catania, a consultant and former New Jersey gaming regulator.

“Congress’ attempt to prohibit Internet gaming failed,” he said referring to lawmakers’ failure to enact a law proposed last year by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., which would have banned Internet wagering from U.S.-based computers.

Catania believes the regulation should remain a state issue because “New Jersey and Nevada can better regulate New Jersey and Nevada casinos than the federal government.”

Internet gambling regulations must be based on the same rules established for “brick-and-mortar” casinos, Catania said. For example, a person can’t receive a traditional casino license without a background check.

“Consumers should be assured that Internet gambling is fair, honest and they will get paid,” he said.

Falcone said until online gambling is regulated, he is cutting in half his earlier predictions that the industry could exceed $6 billion a year by 2003.

“It appears there will be a regulated industry and an unregulated industry,” he said. “Investors are going to pay a premium for regulated (online gambling) brand names that will mean high traffic.”

Internet gaming will supplement, rather than take away from, traditional casinos, Falcone said.

The Nevada Resort Association, which represents the many of the state’s casinos, has opposed efforts to legalize online gaming, fearing it would drain dollars away.

But officials for gaming giants such as MGM Mirage and Park Place Entertainment now say they are interested in exploring opportunities offered by Internet gambling and are testing the waters with promotional online sites.

That has regulators nervous. Nevada attorney general’s office issued an opinion this month saying Nevada casinos can’t offer free gambling over the Internet if players get prizes based on a game’s outcome – even if no money is bet.