OSAKA – As the Liberal Democratic Party and conservative opposition’s Nippon Ishin no Kai rush to pass legislation to legalize casino gambling, regional governments from Hokkaido to Kyushu, which see it as a potential gold mine for local revenue and jobs, are making plans to host such facilities.
But concerns are growing that the hastily deliberated legislation on integrated resort (IR) facilities, which will house the casinos, fails to provide adequate measures to deal with issues such as an expected rise in gambling addicts.
Many critics also warn that legalizing casinos will increase money laundering and the involvement of criminal gangs — issues brushed off by supporters who say such questions could be addressed when it came time to debate the follow-up bill on the details of IRs.
Even if the IR bill were to clear both houses by Dec. 14, when the current session ends, lawmakers still need to start debating, within a year, another bill that lays out the specifics of creating the facilities — a discussion that is expected to be particularly intense.
If the follow-up bill clears the Diet, candidate locations for the country’s first casino, or casinos, will be chosen.
Local government approval of an IR plan, which would include funding for not only a casino but also hotels, convention centers, shopping areas, and whatever local transportation infrastructure is needed to get to and from the IR, is a must.
The whole process is expected to take years under the best of political circumstances, meaning it might not be until 2025 at the earliest when the first IR resort with a casino could open.
Despite the long and steep road ahead, several local governments have expressed interest in hosting an IR, which they hope will bring in much-needed cash amid dire financial straits.
Many of them have conducted surveys and predicted the economic impact of IR/casinos, and what they would mean for local employment.
The city and prefecture of Osaka are very enthusiastic supporters, proposing to build an IR resort on Yumeshima Island in Osaka Bay.
The Kansai Association of Corporate Executives says an Osaka IR would employ 98,000 people with a potential economic windfall of ¥760 billion for the region. Over the past three years, casino operators in the U.S., including Caesars Entertainment Corp. and MGM Resorts International, as well as Genting Singapore, have spoken with Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who also heads Nippon Ishin, and other leaders about the possibility of an IR there.
“IR facilities are necessary to expand employment,” Matsui said Friday. “I want to create a facility that the world will admire.”
In Hokkaido, the Lake Akan hot springs resort in eastern Hokkaido and the city of Tomakomai, not far from New Chitose Airport in western Hokkaido, have looked into the possibility of hosting an IR.
Kushiro, where the Lake Akan resort is located, predicts an IR would draw between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors annually, and contribute up to ¥57 billion to the area. A Lake Akan IR, Kushiro predicts, would mean employment for 6,200 people — not small for a city with a population of about 175,000.
Tomakomai, meanwhile, estimates that an IR would draw up to 3.8 million visitors annually, mostly among those flying in and out of New Chitose. It would also mean an economic effect of between ¥94 billion and ¥162 billion, and jobs for up to 18,000 people, the city said.
Elsewhere, Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, which is home to the Huis Ten Bosch resort as well as a U.S. Navy base, has expressed interest in an IR within the resort. It expects 5 million people per year would visit, with an economic effect of ¥250 billion and jobs for 11,000 people.
Yokohama has also expressed interest in hosting a casino. Last month, the Yokohama Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicted that an IR would mean an economic windfall of between ¥559 billion and ¥671 billion and employment for nearly 71,000 people.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has however expressed cautious support for eventually hosting casino gambling in the capital.
“From the viewpoint of rebuilding tourism, integrated resorts are a plus,” Koike said last week. “On the other hand, there are various social concerns, so you have to look at the whole picture. What we should do for Tokyo is something that I want to continue to discuss.”
But warnings about a rise in gambling addiction without proper regulations are growing.
Noriko Tanaka, president of the Society Concerned About the Gambling Addiction, a Tokyo-based nonprofit group, is one who is sounding an alarm.
The group, which has conducted nationwide seminars on the problems of gambling addiction, has advised the LDP and other political parties of the issues, only to be effectively ignored.
“Politicians claim they are concerned about a rise in gambling addicts,” Tanaka added. “But the current bill is insufficient in resolving those problems and needs to be revised.”
Government statistics show there were an estimated 5.36 million gambling addicts in 2014. Tanaka’s group documented 70 incidents of financial crimes, as reported in the media, between September 2015 and August that were allegedly due to gambling.
“The Diet needs to have a discussion about a robust campaign to prevent gambling addiction,” Tanaka said.
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