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Diet enacts contentious casino legislation

by

Staff Writer

The Diet enacted a law to legalize casinos Thursday morning amid ongoing public concerns over a raft of potential social ills, including surges in gambling addiction and organized crime.

For Japan, it seems casino legalization could be equivalent to opening Pandora’s box.

The nation is already plagued by high rates of gambling addiction stemming from its tolerance of pachinko and other types of high-stakes activities, including horse, boat and bicycle races.

The public has been skeptical of the bill, too, with an NHK survey showing Monday that 44 percent of respondents opposed it, versus 12 percent who supported it and 34 percent who were undecided.

Political wrangling over the bill unfolded during the course of Wednesday, bringing this year’s extraordinary Diet session to a tumultuous finale that saw the opposition bloc resort to no-confidence motions and delay tactics.

The bill, which proponents see as a crucial boost for Abe’s drive to make Japan a more tourism-oriented nation, was approved by the plenary session of the Upper House late Wednesday evening with the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and conservative opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai.

LDP lawmaker Ryosuke Kozuki told the plenary session that hosting casinos will play a key role in helping realize Abe’s growth strategy of luring some 40 million tourists annually by 2020.

After clearing the Upper House, the bill was sent back to the Lower House, as per a parliamentary rule that says any bills tweaked in the Upper House are subject to scrutiny again by the more powerful lower chamber of the Diet.

On Tuesday night, in order to quell a swelling backlash from opposition parties, the LDP had proposed key amendments to the casino bill, including defining the government’s responsibility to better combat gambling addiction and stipulating that the legislation be reviewed within the first five years of its enactment, reports said.

Still dissatisfied, four opposition parties — the Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party — on Wednesday went all-out to delay voting in hopes of thwarting the bill’s enactment before the end of this legislative session, which was slated to wrap up Wednesday.

They submitted a joint no-confidence motion against Upper House chairman Chuichi Date, only to see it vetoed Wednesday afternoon.

They also submitted a similar motion against Abe’s Cabinet to the Lower House, but it was struck down, too, given the strong majority commanded by the ruling coalition in the chamber.

The opposition’s moves brought the Diet to a temporary standstill, pushing Lower House re-examination of the bill late into the night and even past midnight.

With time running out, the LDP proposed on Wednesday night that the extraordinary session be extended for three more days until Saturday and the Lower House plenary session, which started at 10 p.m., approved the extension despite protest from opposition parties. The casino bill will now almost certainly be enacted by Thursday morning.

Fierce resistance to the bill had persisted Wednesday, with critics saying that Japan is doomed to experience the same casino-driven fiascoes already plaguing other nations that have legalized gambling.

The DP’s Saori Yoshikawa told the Upper House that casino industries in Asia by and large lost momentum due to China’s economic slowdown and excess investment, and that Japan was about to make the same mistake.

She also branded Japan a “gambling superpower,” with its combined market size for pachinko as well as horse, bicycle and boat races estimated at about ¥26 trillion annually.

The haste with which the LDP debated the casino legalization mirrored its handling of other controversial bills that raised hackles among the opposition during this legislative session.

It forced through a bill to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, despite U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to withdraw from the pact on his first day in office.

A bill to revamp Japan’s pension system was also enacted Wednesday, despite concerns it may result in pension payments being reduced in tandem with falling wages. Abe has defended the revamp as necessary to increase the sustainability of the system.