Legislation to legalize casinos — which lawmakers in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition seek to ram through the Diet by the middle of next week — will add to the contradiction in this country in which gambling is prohibited under the Criminal Code but an estimated 5 million people are suspected of being gambling addicts. This situation is permitted by special laws that provide for publicly run forms of wagering such as horse racing as well as the thriving pachinko industry that is effectively nothing but gambling. The Abe administration touts the introduction of casinos as a key feature of its growth strategy to draw more inbound tourists and generate jobs, but various concerns about its potential problems are being cast aside as the bill gets railroaded through the Diet with minimal deliberation.

The bill is formally called legislation to promote development of integrated resorts — which combine hotels, convention centers, shopping malls and casinos, and other facilities. It requires the government to craft necessary legal steps within a year to pave the way for creation of such facilities, presumably including additional legislation that will set regulations on the operation of casinos and a mechanism for government supervision of the private-sector firms that will run them.

Proponents of legalizing casinos say they will provide a big boost to the nation's tourism industry, particularly the fast-growing numbers of visitors from overseas, which will create jobs and add tax revenues to national and local government coffers. Several prefectures and municipalities across the country, including Osaka Prefecture and the city of Yokohama, are eager to get casinos in hopes of boosting their local economies. But while the economic benefits of casinos draw the limelight, little public discussion has been held about the potential problems — including the risk of involvement by organized crime and possibly exacerbating the problem of gambling addiction in this country — and whether the anticipated benefits outweigh the potential social costs.