Pro-casino lawmakers have agreed to consider putting limits on the ability of Japanese to patronize gambling establishments, bowing to pressure from opponents who have threatened to block a legalization bill unless it addresses issues such as gambling addiction.
Such a revision would boost chances of the bill getting passed this year, as proponents hope, although it is not yet clear whether enough anti-casino lawmakers will be persuaded to provide the support it needs in both Diet chambers.
The Japanese gaming market figures to be worth trillions of yen a year.
“The government, for the purpose of preventing the negative effects of casino facilities by non-foreign visitors, will take necessary measures regarding admittance and capacity,” says the amended section to the bill, a draft of which was shown to reporters Thursday.
The revision would avoid banning Japanese entry outright and limiting casinos to foreign tourists, pro-casino lawmakers said. Some news reports said such a ban might be adopted to ensure passage of the bill.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says casino resorts would help the economy by boosting tourism. But market researchers argue Japan’s 128 million people would likely account for most of the revenue, and casino operators say foreigner-only resorts could struggle to make a profit.
“From our standpoint, I will say that we will not be interested in Japan or any other country on a foreigners-only basis. We can’t do that. Our business model won’t allow it,” Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the world’s largest casino operator, Las Vegas Sands Corp., told analysts during a conference call Wednesday.
Hiroyuki Hosoda, chairman of the pro-casino lawmakers’ alliance, said the revision was in response to concerns over gambling addiction and money laundering, which, he said, such not hold up the current bill.
A second bill, set to be drafted next year if the current bill passes before the end of this year, would address the specifics, including possible entry fees or conditions for entry by locals, Hosoda said.
He told reporters the current priority is to set in motion the legalization process for a casino industry, stressing its importance to the Japanese economy.
“With the manufacturing sector weakened, it’s time for the Japanese to aim for economic growth through tourism,” he said.
Abe has said he hopes casinos will be legalized in time for the 2020 Olympic Games. Analysts have said any delays in legislation will make that difficult.