National / Politics

Japan to delay policy for selecting casino resort host cities amid bribery scandal

Reuters, JIJI, Kyodo

The government will delay part of the process for selecting casino host cities amid a bribery scandal that has seen the arrest of ruling-party lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto, sources have said.

The government had originally planned to set by this month a basic policy to determine guidelines for selecting cities, but officials are now looking to postpone that process, the government sources said.

Last month, prosecutors arrested Akimoto, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker previously in charge of casino policy, on suspicion he accepted bribes from a Chinese company seeking to build a casino in Japan.

The arrest has hardened public opposition to the already unpopular plan to allow casinos. In response, the government intends to consider adding rules to the basic policy on when resort operators make contact with ministers, vice ministers or parliamentary secretaries.

Hamstrung by a weak economy and a shrinking population and tax base, Japan is pushing to boost tourism through “integrated resorts” — Las Vegas-style complexes that include casinos, shopping arcades and conference centers.

While the government aims to open casinos in the mid-2020s at the earliest, a significant delay in the creation of the basic policy may affect the schedule.

The basic policy will provide the criteria for rating area development plans to be submitted by municipal or prefectural governments for hosting casinos.

A draft of the policy released by the government in September last year included evaluation items such as the effect on local economies and ways to eliminate harmful impacts of casinos.

However, the government plans to make no change to the schedule for accepting hosting bids from municipalities and prefectures in the around seven-month window between Jan. 4 and July 30, 2021, after the basic policy is adopted.

If bids progress smoothly, integrated casino resorts could start operating by the mid-2020s, the government has projected, taking into account the three- to four-year period likely to be required for construction work. But the schedule may be pushed back if the decision on formalizing the basic policy and other processes are significantly delayed.

Opposition parties are stepping up their criticism and introduced a bill that would scrap related laws to the Diet on Monday, when its regular session for this year started for a 150-day run.

The government plans to allow up to three casino resorts to be opened.

Potential bidders include Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka, Japan’s three largest cities, and smaller ones including Nagasaki and Wakayama.

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