National | the argument: casinos

Japan is going all-in on casinos. Will the gamble pay off?

The Argument is a new feature dedicated to promoting dialogue and deeper understanding of contentious issues by introducing various viewpoints.

More and more municipalities in Japan are considering placing a bet on casinos following the enactment of a law last year that spelled out a raft of rules on the structure of the nation’s planned integrated resorts (IR), nomenclature for casinos.

Land minister Kazuyoshi Akaba told a news conference last month that eight jurisdictions have answered a central government survey saying that they are interested in hosting such resorts, some going so far as to say they are officially preparing to file applications.

The eight jurisdictions are Hokkaido, Chiba, Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, the prefecture and the city of Osaka, Wakayama Prefecture and Nagasaki Prefecture.

Up to three resorts — which will incorporate hotels as well as conference centers and shopping facilities — will be allowed to open across the nation under the law enacted last year to introduce casinos.

The country’s push toward casinos has not only attracted attention at home, but abroad, too.

Upper House members opposed to a bill to allow casinos to open in Japan hold up banners urging the government to use taxpayer money for other purposes, during an Upper House plenary session in July 2018. | KYODO
Upper House members opposed to a bill to allow casinos to open in Japan hold up banners urging the government to use taxpayer money for other purposes, during an Upper House plenary session in July 2018. | KYODO

When Yokohama announced in August that the city will throw its hat into the ring in a bid to host a resort, U.S. casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. quickly issued a statement expressing its interest in investing in Yokohama or Tokyo.

Chris Gordon, president of gambling giant Wynn Resorts Development’s Japanese arm, has also reportedly spoken at length of the company’s desire to build the “world’s largest” integrated resort in Tokyo, Osaka or Yokohama.

In a nation where gambling has long been outlawed, Japan’s foray into casinos is a historic policy shift that lifts a ban on private-sector gambling for the first time.

While proponents say the introduction of integrated resorts will help invigorate local economies, opponents insist casinos may deepen gambling addiction and spur organized crime.

Opinion polls have so far shown that the public largely remains skeptical of the move: A Jiji Press survey found earlier this month that 58 percent were opposed to the introduction of casino resorts, versus 27 percent who supported the move.

What are the points of contention in introducing casinos in Japan? Will casinos attract foreign tourists and revitalize the economy, or will they simply lead to an increased number of gambling addicts, resulting in the need to spend more taxpayer money to treat them?

The Japan Times asked two political figures who have been leading the debate in the Diet for their opinions on the matter: Takeshi Iwaya, interviewed by staff writer Tomohiro Osaki, and Keiko Itokazu, interviewed by staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama.

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