National

Citizens worry Japan's casino bill will fuel crime and addiction

by Magdalena Osumi and Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writers

The idea of legalizing casinos in Japan drew skepticism from many people interviewed in Tokyo’s streets on Tuesday.

Some wondered if Japan — which already has forms of gambling like horse racing and pachinko — would really benefit from the introduction of so-called integrated resorts.

In Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, 56-year-old food industry employee Teruo Ochiai said there are a lot of unknowns surrounding what type of facilities the bill paves the way for.

“The problem is that we still don’t know who’s going to run this business,” Ochiai said. “We know there are big companies that stand behind pachinko parlors and that horse racing is managed by the government, but who’s going to operate casinos? We still haven’t got any precise information.”

Ochiai expressed fears that casinos, which supporters hope will draw wealthy tourists from abroad, might be exploited by unscrupulous operators and visitors.

“We have no guarantee this won’t give ‘the bad guys from overseas’ an opportunity for money laundering,” he said.

Hajime Shigemori, a 42-year-old actor and performer, also questioned how the casinos will be run.

“I don’t disapprove of construction of casinos per se, if they are properly managed, but many things are sloppily handled in Japan. I cannot trust them,” Shigemori said. “I only have a vague picture, but I don’t really like the idea of stimulating the economy using money from gambling.”

Seventy-year-old retiree Eiji Kamimura, who lives in Yokohama, likewise said Japan is not prepared for casinos.

“It’s only beneficial for those who run it, not those who play there, as it’s designed so that operators don’t incur losses,” said Kamimura, who was approached by The Japan Times outside a pachinko parlor. Pachinko resembles pinball, and is a kind of quasi-gambling whereby players trade prizes for cash at off-site facilities.

Kamimura, who has visited a casino in Los Angeles, said that creating more gambling opportunities in Japan would only worsen gambling addiction.

“There are people who end up killing themselves after gambling losses,” he said.

Kyoko Murakami, a 51-year-old housewife, agreed, lamenting that the bill was pushed through without sufficient public debate on how to address the addiction issue.

“The government only talks about how (casinos) would help stimulate the economy, but it seems that measures to deal with all the negative aspects will be discussed after the legislation is passed,” she said. “I think they’re unnecessarily rushing to push it through. If they’re really going to legalize it and build a casino, they should first focus on ways to address (such issues).”

Meanwhile in Shibuya, a 54-year-old office worker said a casino would not attract many people living in Japan.

“I don’t think it’s such a problem to open an casino here in Japan, but I don’t think many people would be interested,” said the man, who only provided his last name, Hirayama. But he added that he might have a look if casinos did open.

“It makes more sense to me as a (foreign) tourist attraction,” he said.

Hirayama said that he once visited casinos in Las Vegas, but that he is not particularly interested in gambling and has never visited pachinko parlors in Japan.

“I think that Japanese people don’t have a good impression of gambling due to pachinko,” he said.

A housewife in her early 30s who declined to provide her name said that integrated resorts, if they are built, should be located outside of major cities.

“I’m worried that public safety may worsen due to casinos, especially if it’s located in busy areas such as Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi,” she said.

“It should attract many tourists, so it should be located in cities that need visitors,” she added. “Otherwise, Tokyo will be flooded with people, with the Olympics also coming up.”