Casino bill clears Lower House, enactment almost certain

The Lower House of the Diet (House of Representatives) on Tuesday passed the long-awaited bill that would legalize casinos in Japan.

According to Japanese media, the bill cleared the Lower House plenary session with the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and conservative opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai.

The legislation is likely to be sent to the Upper House Cabinet Committee as early as Wednesday, and could be enacted at the plenary session of the chamber scheduled for Friday.

“The bill passed through the chamber and will be sent to the upper house later today,” a parliamentary spokeswoman said.

While the LDP also control the Upper House, observers have warned the next biggest hurdle for the bill will likely come from the Upper House Cabinet Committee, controlled by Mr. Namba Shoji, who is a member of the opposition DP party.

“Casino advocates not only forcibly started debates on the bill but steamrolled it through the Lower House committee after only 5 hours and 33 minutes’ worth of deliberation. Such handling is completely disrespectful to the public and we believe the bill isn’t even worth the trouble of voting for or against,” said Kazunori Yamanoi, DP’s Diet affairs chief, whose party walked out of the vote in protest, according to Japan Times.

According to Michael Penn of Shingetsu News Agency, the lawmakers from the Social Democratic Party, and Liberal Party also walked out of the chamber in protest, while the Japan Communist Party stayed in their seats and voted against the bill.

“Getting the bill out of the upper house cabinet committee represents a higher hurdle than getting it out of the lower house cabinet committee as the LDP will clearly need to bargain with the chairman,” said Union Gaming in a note on Tuesday.

According to reports, Upper House lawmakers of the LDP including Shoji Nishida and Ichita Yamamoto also voiced displeasure during a meeting on Monday over the seemingly “rushed’ handling of the bill.

“In the eyes of the public, this would look like we were being arrogant because we control so many seats,” Yamamoto wrote in a Monday blog post. “After an unprecedented winning streak in the past four national elections, maybe our common sense is getting a bit off,” he said.

Should the bill pass the Upper House committee, there is a good chance for the bill to clear the Upper House as the LDP has the majority seats there, said Union Gaming.

However, according to Penn, the opposition Democratic Party has already agreed to take up deliberations on the Casino Bill in the House of Councillors on Wednesday, meaning enactment of the bill is now regarded as “certain” — perhaps even as soon as this Friday, December 9.

Japan’s gambling market is being eyed by several big name operators including Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts, Hard Rock Cafe International, Melco Crown Entertainment and Genting Singapore.

Jan Jones Blackhurst, who heads government relations for Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment, said Japan has been on the company’s radar for more than a decade.

“We’re very encouraged with the progress. We think the legalization of [casino resorts] would be excellent for job creation and growth of tourism, and we would be very interested in being part of the process if it moves forward,” she said.

The LDP has said it will try to get the bill passed before the end of the current parliamentary session on Dec 14.