Risky business: Japan lawmakers vote on three mega casinos

Japanese lower house is set to vote tomorrow on a bill that will allow the construction of three integrated casino resorts. If the lawmakers pass the Integrated Resort Implementation Bill, it is likely to pass the upper house on 20 June.

The controversial bill follows on from the IR Promotional Bill, which legalised casino gambling on December 2016. It has the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Buddhist Komeito party, who are governing in coalition.

Lawmakers hope integrated resorts will attract international tourists and foreign investment. The potential value of the Japanese gambling market has been put at $25bn by investment bank CLSA.

John Oh, the bank’s head of gambling, told CNBC in February that that figure was a "visionary number" that would take about five years to achieve, but may rise to $40bn in the future.

Other estimates put the potential annual revenue at between $10bn and $20bn.

However, the proposals are controversial, not least because Japan already has a gambling problem, owing to the widespread addiction to pachinko, a gambling game based on ball bearings. One in 10 Japanese people play the game, and addiction is seen as a serious social problem.

The bill would also allow casinos to loan money to players, which may greatly increase the amount of money – or other assets – that a player could be stripped of in the course of an evening.

To allay those concerns, the bill will restrict entry to casinos to three times a week, and allow casinos to lend only after it had investigated a player’s solvency. It will also charge Japanese patrons a Â¥2,000 ($18) entry fee.

The government is also arguing that it will be mostly foreigners who will visit the resorts – a claim that is disputed by many.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper comments that the Prefecture of Osaka, which is bidding to host one of the casinos, estimates that Japanese nationals will make up between 70% and 80% of the customers.

Osaka held a conference for potential casino operators in April, attracting six potential bidders for the project, including MGM Resorts from the US and Melco Resorts from Macau.

Image: A pachinko parlour in Tokyo. The game is played by about 13 million people (Tischbeinahe/Creative Commons)

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  1. Gambling is a scourge on society’s most vulnerable people; it is addictive and dangerous. Here is an example of greed at it’s worst.

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