Japan’s Gambling Bill Saga Continues

Fujiyoshida, Japan at Chureito Pagoda and Mt. Fuji in the spring with cherry blossoms

The Japanese Lower House Panel had been set to vote on a bill that would legalize casino resorts in the country. However, a day of political controversy means that this issue will not be resolved for another while.

Bill details

Toward the end of 2016, casinos were legalized in Japan after an intense debate over the preceding 15 years. This decision led to a number of major parties in the gambling industry to try to get in on the action.

Caesars Entertainment an MGM Resorts International, among others, want to make significant resort casino investments in the country. This would be a big tourist attraction for Japan and it would boost the local economies. However, a decision to allow resort casinos must be passed first.

The Integrated Resorts Implementation Bill was supposed to be voted on by June 13, but it has now been pushed back. Discussions on the bill are now not expected to begin in the Japanese Parliament’s Upper Chamber for another week.

It had previously been believed that these discussions would take place this week. However, there was political turmoil on Tuesday after some opposition parties decided to create a petition to get rid of the chairman of the House of Representative’s Cabinet Committee, Daishiro Yamagiwa.

The reason for this petition was that Yamagiwa gave the go-ahead for a vote on this gambling bill, something which has been controversial in the country. This means that the petition to remove Yamagiwa will be heard on Thursday, so no vote on the bill can take place until Friday, at the earliest.

When it was announced that there would be a vote, members from some of the opposition parties walked out in protest because they said there was not sufficient discussion regarding the matter. There could even be further turmoil if the opposition decides to file a resolution of no-confidence in Keiichi Ishii, the minister of land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism.

There has been a lot of criticism of this bill; many are concerned about significant rises in the rates of gambling participation since casinos were legalized back in 2016. There are also ever-increasing numbers who are becoming addicted to gambling.

Since the ruling coalition has a majority, they will likely utilize it to shut down the opposition’s blocking of the vote. However, this issue could continue to drag on as the political theater seems set to continue for the foreseeable future.

There have even been discussions about having an extension for the current parliamentary session, which is scheduled to end on June 20. This extension would be implemented to make sure the House of Councillors has enough time to pass this gambling bill before the session concludes. The proposed extension is for a further 20 days.

What happens if approved?

If the bill is approved, it will open the gateway to significant investment from major gambling conglomerates. There will be only three resort casino licenses up for grabs if this bill is passed.

MGM has already committed to making a bid for a license. Estimates from the Daiwa Research Institute show that these three resort casinos alone could see net profits of $10bn (£7.55bn) annually. It’s no wonder there are so many parties interested in these licenses, which will no doubt lead to a competitive bidding war.

The governor of the Osaka Prefecture region believes that, if the bill is passed, one of the very first resort casinos could be finished by 2023. They have already chosen a location for it, the Yumeshima Island (man-made) in Osaka Bay. This would be ideally timed two years before the World Expo takes place, which Osaka is hoping to host.

However, there would need to be significant work done in order to quell the growing levels of gambling addiction in the country. This is one of the main concerns of those opposing the bill and it is clear that some changes need to be made to help problem gamblers.

A survey conducted by the government in September 2017 found there are almost 3.2 million adults in Japan who are thought to be experiencing gambling addiction issues.

Interestingly, this survey showcased that one of the games that have caused a lot of these addiction issues is a pinball game native to the region called pachinko pinball.

There is a feeling that, for the bill to be passed, some measures must be taken to help address this gambling addiction issue.