Japan’s Lower House Passes Casino Bill

Japan has been discussing casino legislation for almost two years, with no major action. But that changed this week when parliament’s lower house passed a bill that paves the way for a closer look at legal casinos.

The passed legislation opens the door for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party, which want to legalize casino gambling.

This bill will now move to the upper house for review. The Liberal Democratic Party is the dominant force in the upper house right now, and Abe hopes to get casino legislation pushed through before parliament’s session ends next week.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the bill won’t immediately legalize casinos. Instead, it requires regulators to develop plans that will license operators and keep gambling addicts out of the casino.

Parliament would then need to approve final legislation before casino companies can start building their venues.

MGM and Las Vegas Sands have pledged to spend billions if gambling is approved and they’re awarded licensing.

Abe and other casino proponents were hoping to get this bill finished last year or earlier, given that Japan is hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics. This didn’t happen, but casinos could be finished in the early 2020s if casino gambling is approved.

Japan is traditionally very strict on gambling, with only lotteries, horse racing and pachinko available. But casinos remain illegal until new legislation can be enacted.

Abe has been pushing casinos hard ever since he became Japan’s prime minister in December 2012. He believes that casino gambling will help the country grow economically, citing Singapore as one place that’s benefited greatly from casino resorts.

Proponents point out that legal casinos will further accelerate tourism, which hit 20 million foreign visitors for the first time ever in 2015.

Opponents have used the traditional argument that casinos increase crime and gambling addiction. Polls show that most Japanese citizens are against casinos, with the Ymiuri newspaper showing 57% of respondents opposing the matter.

“I can’t see how this could be justified as an economic growth strategy because it just fleeces money from citizens,” said Akira Koike, a Japanese Communist Party lawmaker.

Anti-casino groups are hoping that the government will vote down the measure in what they see as protecting the public.