As lawmakers discuss reintroducing a bill to legalize casino-style gambling during the current Diet session, Osaka and Yokohama are reportedly favorites to host the first resort complexes with casinos.
But concerns over a rise in gambling addiction and other social issues are also increasing.
In particular, many members of Komeito, the junior coalition partner, fear such adverse impacts. This means it remains unclear whether casino gambling will come to Japan anytime soon.
Many experts say odds are low for a start by 2020, as some local governments would like.
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Lower House last November, a number of bills were still in discussion. One of these would have allowed limited, casino-style gambling in designated integrated resort (IR) areas.
Over 20 municipalities have expressed interest in such resorts, which, in addition to casinos, would include hotels, theme parks, convention facilities, shopping malls, and entertainment venues. For cash-strapped local governments, such attractions are seen as a way to draw tourists, especially from overseas.
Political support is particularly strong in Osaka and Yokohama. In Osaka, the man-made island of Yumeshima in Osaka Bay is the favored location. In October, the prefecture and city, along with senior officials from major business organizations, set up a joint committee to discuss the specifics of bringing a gambling resort complex to Yumeshima.
In its fiscal 2015 budget proposal, the prefecture plans to continue researching the viability of an integrated resort as soon as possible. On Monday, Gov. Ichiro Matsui told reporters the prefecture still wants to open a casino by 2020, despite the uncertainty of passing a law in time.
“The Tokyo Olympics will bring lots of people around the world to Japan, and, along with an integrated resort, all of Osaka wants to have something for them,” Matsui said.
Meanwhile, Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi has expressed support for building such a complex. Like Osaka, the city plans to continue to budget IR-related research. A plot of land about 50 hectares in size adjacent to Yamashita Park is the favored location.
But Takashi Kiso, CEO of the Tokyo-based International Casino Institute and a leading integrated resort advocate, says there is still a long way to go before the first casino opens its doors.
“The annexed document of the IR promotional bill indicated the government would develop qualifications for areas of IR development after the promotional bill is enacted. Moreover, the location will be selected through a bidding process among local governments,” he said, referring to integrated resorts.
Kiso added that, with only about five years until the Tokyo Olympics, it would be virtually impossible for local governments who win casino licenses to open the kind of resorts they now have on the drawing board.
“The only way an IR will open (by 2020) is if the government allows it to partially open before the Olympic games,” he said.
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