National / Politics

Ruling coalition drives casino bill through Lower House panel as opposition protests

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition on Friday pushed through a Lower House panel a contentious bill that specifies rules about the planned structure of integrated resorts (IRs), which will incorporate casino facilities, further intensifying political tensions with the opposition.

Friday’s passage of the bill represented the first legislative step toward the ruling bloc’s stated goal of enacting the bill by the end of this ongoing Diet session, which is slated to wrap up next week. As the panel called for the vote, a large group of opposition lawmakers, who do not support the legislation, rushed to gather around committee chairman Daishiro Yamagiwa in a popular gesture of protest, attempting unsuccessfully to sabotage the bill’s passage.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party plans to secure formal Lower House approval of the bill early next week and swiftly send it to the Upper House, according to Wataru Takeshita, general council chairman of the party, who spoke at a news conference Friday. Given the tight schedule, however, speculation is rife that the LDP-Komeito coalition will resort to extending the designated parliamentary period by a few weeks to guarantee the law’s enactment. The Abe administration characterizes IRs, which will feature not only casinos but also facilities such as shopping malls, theaters and hotels, as a key pillar of its drive to boost tourism and stimulate growth.

Opposition parties including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party for the People and the Japanese Communist Party have made it clear that they are against the law’s enactment, citing the small amount of time spent deliberating numerous issues related to the opening of casinos, including gambling addiction and the true extent of their appeal to foreign tourists.

“A growth strategy based on gambling is wrong and outdated,” Kiyomi Tsujimoto, Diet affairs chief of the CDP, told reporters.

Hours before its adoption at the Lower House panel, the opposition parties had submitted a no-confidence motion against Minister for Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keiichi Ishii — who is responsible for the bill — as part of its delaying tactics. The ruling bloc voted it down.

The opposition in particular has cast doubt on Ishii’s claim that Japan’s envisioned IRs will attract foreign tourists, and questions the government’s logic on the issue.

A 2017 survey jointly conducted by the Development Bank of Japan and the Japan Travel Bureau Foundation indicated lackluster interest in Japan’s casinos among those overseas. Targeting residents from 12 regions, including South Korea, China, the United States, Britain and France, the survey asked them which IR facilities they would be most keen to visit while in Japan, and found that only 7 percent chose casinos while 46 percent voted for shopping malls, 43 percent for hotels and 40 percent for theme parks.

“It’s obvious that there is little inbound demand for casinos,” said Kazuma Nakatani, a Lower House member of the CDP.