National / Politics

Casino bill clears Lower House amid LDP discord, opposition protest

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The Lower House on Tuesday passed a controversial bill that would legalize modern casinos for the first time in Japan, despite mounting criticism within the ruling and opposition blocs over the Diet’s slapdash handling of the legislation.

The bill, seen as a potential boost to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to invigorate the tourism industry, cleared the Lower House plenary session with the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and conservative opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai.

Opposition parties, including the Democratic Party, boycotted the vote in protest on the grounds that the scant amount of time spent deliberating the bill — less than six hours — was hardly enough to address the raft of grave social and economic implications surrounding the legalization of casinos. The Japanese Communist Party voted against the bill.

But it was the way that Komeito, a junior partner of the LDP, responded to the vote that best highlighted the widespread feeling of unease over the bill. Having failed to unify its stance, the party let its lawmakers vote at their own discretion. Of the 33 Komeito lawmakers who attended the Tuesday session, 22 supported the bill, while 11 opposed it, according to Jiji Press.

The legislation is expected to be sent to an Upper House committee as early as Wednesday, and could possibly be enacted at the plenary session of the chamber slated for Friday. But enactment is not yet a certainty, because a cautious approach appears likely under the leadership of DP lawmaker Shoji Nanba, who will chair the Upper House panel.

“Casino advocates not only forcibly started debates on the bill but steamrolled it through the Lower House committee after only 5 hours and 33 minutes’ worth of deliberation. Such handling is completely disrespectful to the public and we believe the bill isn’t even worth the trouble of voting for or against,” Kazunori Yamanoi, the DP’s Diet affairs chief, told a party-wide meeting before the plenary session.

The LDP’s handling of the bill not only irked the opposition but seemingly drove a wedge between its own lawmakers.

Reports emerged Tuesday that some Upper House lawmakers of the LDP, including Shoji Nishida and Ichita Yamamoto, voiced displeasure during a Monday gathering over the handling of the bill.

Yamamoto, who serves as special adviser to Abe on internet strategy, has unleashed criticism of what he called the “rough” Diet debate on casino legalization.

“In the eyes of the public, this would look like we were being arrogant because we control so many seats,” Yamamoto wrote in a Monday blog post. “After an unprecedented winning streak in the past four national elections, maybe our common sense is getting a bit off,” he continued.

LDP secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai sought to play down the talk of burgeoning discord in his party.

“As we lay out more specific bills in the future and make greater efforts to seek understanding, I’m sure we can reach a reasonable conclusion,” Nikai said.

The bill approved Tuesday defines the government’s responsibility to develop what are called integrated resorts, including casinos.

Concerns are rife, however, that legalization would fly in the face of Japan’s ongoing struggle to combat gambling addiction and organized crime, including money laundering.