OSAKA – Promising to address public concerns about the social ills associated with gambling, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kicked off the inaugural meeting Tuesday of a government task force that will make recommendations on licensing and operating integrated resorts (IR) with casinos.
“The world’s highest standards of casino regulations will be introduced, and policies to deal with issues like gambling addiction will be addressed,” Abe said during the meeting. “This will create clean, Japanese-style integrated resorts.”
In the coming months, the task force will bring together lawyers, accountants, economists and political analysts to discuss licensing and operating issues, as well as financial and tax issues.
Headed by Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the expert panel will also make recommendations on how to keep criminal activity out of the casinos and measures to prevent money laundering.
Under consideration are rules similar to those adopted in Singapore to discourage problem gambling. These include an entrance fee for residents who access the casino floor and a system that requires public officials to report visits to the casino exceeding a set monthly limit.
Specific policies to deal with gambling addiction will be discussed — such as a system where problem gamblers or immediate family members can voluntarily add themselves to casino exclusion lists.
Finally, the committee will also consider what restrictions to place on advertising.
Still, worries remain that legalizing casinos may cause a spike in problem gambling.
Last week, a government survey on the matter revealed that 2.7 percent of 993 respondents self-assessed possible addiction at some point in their life, while 0.6 percent said they might have had a problem within last year.
The committee plans to propose recommendations by the end of the summer, and the Diet is expected to establish a law concerning the details of the integrated resorts operations by the end of the year.
The international casino industry and some local governments — which see IR casinos boosting tourism and local tax revenue — are already moving forward with their own plans in the hope of securing one of the first casino resorts to be granted after the IR law is passed.
Osaka Prefecture established on Monday a new bureau tasked with attracting prospective IR developers as well as formulating policies to deal with problem gamblers.
“What’s most critical is to create measures to deal with gambling addiction and to address concerns about public safety,” Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui said.
Osaka has taken the lead in supporting casinos, and has plans to turn Yumeshima, a man-made island in Osaka bay, into the site of an integrated resort with a casino, hotels, shopping facilities and cultural events. Despite concerns over who would foot the bill to build and maintain transportation infrastructure to the island, several international casino operators have expressed an interest.
Macau-based Melco Crown Entertainment has expressed keen interest in Osaka, and their plan has garnered local political support. At a February industry event in Tokyo, Melco CEO Lawrence Ho said his company had spent a lot of effort researching the possibility of an Osaka casino.
“This opportunity is priceless and we’ll spend whatever it takes to win,” Ho said.
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