Casino gambling cleared at ‘integrated resorts’
Japan’s parliament on Thursday approved a law on “integrated resorts” that is the first major hurdle in allowing casinos to set up shop in the wealthy nation.
Supporters of the casino legislation say it would enhance Japan’s allure as a tourism destination and draw in wealthier travelers. Big players in the industry welcomed the news, with Wynn Resorts saying it was “extremely pleased” by its passage.
Opponents object to an expansion of legalized gambling, saying it will fuel organized crime and encourage gambling addiction. Surveys have shown a majority of Japanese oppose the plan.
Casinos are unlikely to start operating in Japan until 2021 or beyond, after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The new legislation would authorize the drafting of regulations for details such as the number and location of casinos, entry restrictions for Japanese and tax rates, which are expected to take up to a year to gain approval.
The approval of the final version of the legislation came in the early hours of Thursday, after a failed attempt by opposition lawmakers to pass a no-confidence motion against its top supporter, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe has sought passage of the long-delayed legislation for years, over the objections of many in his own ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Casino operators view Japan as a lucrative “final frontier”. In a report this month, analysts at investment bank CLSA estimated the potential market at $30 billion a year in gross revenue.
The move could make it the world’s second largest gambling market behind Macao, analysts said.
“The reason why everyone’s spending the time on this is that the potential is absolutely enormous,” said James Murren, chairman of Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International.
Public opposition to the casinos is mainly based on concerns over gambling addiction. In a 2014 study, researchers with Japan’s health ministry found that nearly 5 million people, or 5 percent of the adult population, were thought to be addicted to gambling. That’s far higher than the 1 percent rate found in many other countries.
A dealer demonstrates how to play blackjack at a leisure exhibition in Tokyo.