Japan’s government is considering legalizing gambling in Japan, one of the world’s last untapped markets for gambling. Two billionaire casino operators are pushing to open casino resorts and turn Japan into the third-largest center for gambling after the United States and Macau. Gambling will bring problems.
The examples of the U.S. and the United Kingdom should be sufficient to show that legalized gambling exacerbates problems. The evidence gathered from those two countries over the last several decades of removing prohibitions on gambling shows huge increases in gambling addiction, crime, personal debt and mental health issues, while doing almost nothing for the economy.
Most tax revenue from gambling taxes will be offset by expenditures for treating addictions, fighting crime and helping gamblers in debt. Studies in the U.S. have shown that the rate of compulsive gambling for people living close to a casino is twice the average. They have shown that pathological gamblers number in the millions, and are increasing.
Even worse, according to the U.S.-based Gamblers Anonymous, a group that helps gambling addicts, the average person seeking help will already have lost all his or her money and have accumulated debts ranging from $35,000 to $92,000 before seeking treatment.
Since Japan already has problems with personal debt, and allows very high loan rates, legalized gambling will lead to ever-larger debt for the people most prone to it. Japan already has problems with authorized gambling that includes pachinko as well as horse, boat and bicycle racing. The inconsistent policies about gambling should be resolved by reducing gambling problems, not increasing them.
The government will need to prepare treatment centers for ever more problem gamblers. Studies of gamblers in the U.S. and U.K. found that problem gambling leads to a range of mental health issues. In one survey of chronic gamblers, 22 percent reported panic attacks, 72 percent reported an episode of major depression and 52 percent reported alcohol abuse. Suicidal thoughts are common. These are already health issues in Japan.
There are potential political problems to consider as well. One of the billionaire casino moguls, Sheldon Adelson, has funded a long string of right-wing causes, most prominently donating millions to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid.
He was reported to have donated $150 million to extreme conservative causes in 2012. If Adelson’s casinos were allowed to operate in Japan, he might seek to influence Japanese politics by spending vast sums of money here, too.
Casinos may advertise romantic hopes of hitting it rich, but in fact the gambling industry has set the odds in its favor based on extensive research and carefully controlled gaming systems. Casino companies have found the best ways to keep players losing with ever more enticing ways to play. Letting the gambling industry to operate in Japan is a terrible bet. Japan will lose.