Casino bill heads to Upper House Committee, concerns still afoot

Japan’s Casino Bill was sent to the Upper House Cabinet Affairs Committee on Wednesday, as scheduled, where deliberations on the long-awaited bill have begun.

While there is no absolute certainty what may happen, the contentious casino bill is not without its opposition.

Speaking to AGB, Michael Penn of Shingetsu News Agency said Prime Minister Abe was recently hammered by Democratic Party leader Renho in Diet debate.

“What is really problematic about the Casino Bill is that casinos basically make money on bets lost by gamblers, who will then get addicted to the excitement to the point where they will borrow money… I think casinos will degrade Japan’s national dignity,” she said.

Prime Minister Abe however suggested that casinos would be good for employment and the economy. He also emphasized that casinos would only be a small part of Integrated Resorts (“about 3 percent of all floor space”) and says fears about their scope are overblown.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the ruling coalition Komeito Party, however, expressed discontent: “I think there needs to be a broader debate on why gaming was made illegal in the first place, what kinds of social impact it may have, and how the people will react to it. The amount of time allocated in the Diet to discuss these issues is a bit short. I think there are many who feel this way,” he said.

Casino bill opponents reportedly held an emergency rally in Diet Members Office Building with several dozen people in attendance, reports Penn.

In the media, which is mostly hostile to the Casino Bill, many opponents cite 2013 Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare study that estimated 4.8 percent of Japan’s adult population, or 5.4 million people, are already addicted to gambling. The media has already indulged in predictions of a coming generation of “Casino Homeless.”

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

“The ruling LDP is pushing the bill with renewed vigor,and it is likely that the bill could be passed by Dec 14, the end of this Diet session,” said Morgan Stanley in a note on Tuesday.

According to the brokerage, while normally the gap between the introduction and implementation bill is between 12 to 24 months, since the draft Casino Implementation Bill is already under discussion and being completed by a task force, it is possible to shrink the timeline to as short as six months.

“However, there are many decisions still to be made for the Implementation Bill (focused on foreigners or locals,non-gaming or gaming,entry fee for locals and the amount, taxation for the casinos, the number of licenses and locations,approval from other jurisdictions etc. ), thus pushing the timeline further and resulting in delay in opening of casinos before 2021.”

Morgan Stanley says they continue to believe Japan may issue two licenses, for Yokohama and Osaka, in the first round.