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Bill tackling problem gamblers submitted to Lower House to clear way for casinos

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The ruling LDP-led coalition along with the nominal opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai submitted a bill to the Lower House on Wednesday to establish new policies for dealing with problem gamblers.

The measure is an attempt to address strong public concern that introducing casino resorts will lead to a surge in the number of gambling addicts. A health ministry survey released in October estimated that about 3.2 million people, 3.6 percent of the nation’s population, were suspected of being addicted to pachinko or racetrack gambling.

With an eye toward helping problem gamblers at future integrated casino resorts, it is now aimed at helping people addicted to pachinko, boat or horse race gambling.

The bill sets up a commission under the chief Cabinet secretary that will be responsible for proposing specific measures to deal with problem gamblers. This includes establishing medical facilities and offering social welfare support.

Political advocates for such resorts, especially among Osaka-based Nippon Ishin members, hope a separate bill establishing basic rules on how casinos are to be operated clears the Diet by the time its term finishes on June 20.

But with media polls showing a majority of the public remains opposed to resorts — and opposition parties still questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government over its role in a string of scandals — it remains unclear if the casino operations bill will be passed during this session or deferred to the autumn session.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who also heads Nippon Ishin, has said that if Diet debate proceeds smoothly, the casino operations bill would go into law in time for a resort to open in Osaka by 2024. Three locations nationwide are expected to receive initial permission to operate a casino resort. Osaka, where political support for hosting such a facility is strong, is considered one of the front-runners.

Matsui, whose party rarely votes against legislation submitted by the LDP and its coalition partner, Komeito, has criticized other opposition parties for delaying Diet discussion with questions over scandals related to Abe and his administration and called for the bill to be passed quickly.

Privately, international casino operators have called Matsui’s 2024 goal unrealistic. Osaka wants a casino on Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay. But transportation links to the island need expanding, which first requires tough negotiations between the Osaka government and a casino operator over how much the latter would contribute to build those new links.