National / Politics

Ruling coalition holds back on casino bill ahead of Niigata gubernatorial election

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The ruling coalition postponed Friday the passage of a bill specifying rules about the structure of planned integrated resorts (IRs) that will feature casinos, amid criticism from opposition parties that little time has been spent deliberating numerous problems with the proposed law.

Speculation is rife that the ruling coalition’s decision not to force the bill through a Lower House panel was to avoid a backlash ahead of the Niigata gubernatorial election, set for Sunday.

The coalition between the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito had been aiming for the bill’s clear the Lower House committee on Friday, but backed down after facing fierce resistance from the opposition.

The ruling bloc will meet the opposition again next Tuesday to negotiate swift passage for the bill through the house, with a view to sending it to the Upper House for enactment by the end of the current legislative session.

The bill sets out a range of rules and regulations over how casinos will be operated under the envisioned IR scheme, which Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has said will boost Japan’s economic growth.

The legislation, for example, mandates an admission fee of ¥6,000 as well as stipulating that visitors will only be allowed to enter casinos a maximum of three times a week and 10 times a month, as part of an effort to prevent gambling addiction.

The government maintains that IRs will attract foreign tourists and serve, according to land minister Keiichi Ishii on Friday, as a “hub of communication between Japan and the rest of the world,” playing a pivotal role in strengthening the nation’s economy.

The opposition, however, takes a dim view of this claim, citing multiple municipal and private-sector surveys that indicate a large percentage of casino clientele will actually be Japanese.

For example, a 2016 survey by the International Casino Institute found that about 90 percent of the estimated annual 44 million clients at casinos constructed in the Kanto, Kansai and northern Japan regions would be Japanese, rather than hailing from overseas.

The opposition also slammed the government for not conducting its own research on the positive and negative economic effects that may come along with the establishment of casinos.

Also on Friday, deliberation began on another bill intended to strengthen measures against second-hand smoke, as Japan scrambles to lay the groundwork for a tobacco-free Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The revision to the Health Promotion Law will impose an all-out ban on smoking in public institutions such as schools, hospitals and municipal offices, while permitting smoking in restaurants and bars as long as separate rooms are available for exclusive use by smokers.

Increasingly popular heat-not-burn products are also subject to the restriction, although their use at eateries will similarly be tolerated in smokers’ rooms where customers will also be able to drink and eat.

As a further exception the amendment will permit smoking in small-sized eateries with a floor space of up to 100 square meters, although this has raised questions about the effectiveness of the law.

The revision submitted to the Diet has been significantly watered down in terms of tobacco control from the original version proposed by the health ministry, which was forced to ease some restrictions after facing strong resistance from the LDP and relevant industries.

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