National

Ways to curb gambling's social ills top talks at second casino hearing in Osaka

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The second of eight public hearings on the structure, risks, and local rewards of building integrated casino resorts took place in Osaka on Friday, with concerns raised about problem gamblers, floor layouts and where the resorts would likely be most profitable.

The public hearings come just a few weeks after a government panel tasked with creating the framework for how casino gambling would work in practice submitted its recommendations to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The first session was held Thursday in Tokyo, and the remaining sessions will be held by the end of this month.

The Diet is expected to take up the recommendations in its autumn session, and the licensing and operation procedures for casino resorts, also called integrated resorts, are expected to be approved by the end of the year.

The government says that only two or three locations are likely to get the first licenses, and public concern and opposition remains high. A Jiji Press poll taken last week showed that nearly 67 percent of respondents opposed casinos in their neighborhoods due to fears they’ll lead to a rise in crime.

But in Osaka, official interest in hosting an integrated resort is strong, with Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui leading the effort to ensure the region gets one of the first licenses. At Friday’s hearing, panel members heard from local lawyers, NGO representatives, and business and local government representatives.

Tetsunari Yoshida, a lawyer based in neighboring Hyogo Prefecture, told the session that the panel’s proposals were insufficient to address a number of social concerns. For example, while the panel is proposing limits on the number of times Japanese people can visit and the charging of an entrance fee, Yoshida says this could lead to other problems.

“The panel has proposed limiting the number of times Japanese people can enter the casinos on a given day or during any given week. But that could simply encourage people to spend longer periods of time in the casino. A limit should also be placed on how long people are allowed to stay in the casino on any given visit,” he said.

Takayuki Miyake, who represents a local group of people who have experienced gambling addiction, also had worries about the proposal to limit visits by Japanese.

“By placing limits on the number of times Japanese people can visit, it might be possible to exclude gambling addicts or those who appear to be addicts. But that could lead them to turn to illegal gambling. An organization needs to be established by specialists that can decide on a system for limiting entrance, (and) work must be done to create a policy that helps people overcome their gambling problems,” Miyake said.

For business groups basically in favor of casinos, one issue of concern is the panel’s recommendation that a limit be put on floor space. In a written statement to the hearing, the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives said that, rather than limiting the total floor space of a casino, capping the amount of floor space that can be used for casino services could be considered.

The Osaka and Kansai region’s leading candidate for an integrated resort complex is the man-made island of Yumeshima in Osaka Bay. Osaka also hopes to host the 2025 World Expo, which will be awarded in November 2018, on the island. While Osaka officials continue to insist that the Expo bid and the drive for a casino resort are not related, some at Friday’s meeting see one as complimenting the other.

“The theme of Osaka’s 2025 Expo bid is designing future society for our lives, and if an integrated resort can be aligned with that theme, the resort would become a one-of-a-kind, only-in-Japan type of resort,” said Takako Igaki, a representative from an urban design research institute.