Casino bill sparks heated discussion

While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party held off on its plan to enact the Casino Bill last week, the controversial bill has continued to be a hot topic of discussion.

Over the weekend, Nobuyuki Hirano, president & group CEO of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, was asked about the Casino Bill in a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

“I’m aware that there is quite a heated discussion around this new initiative by the Abe administration,” he said. “Whether it really helps Japanese society, welfare, and economic growth depends on whether we can tightly control the casinos and integrated resorts. In theory integrated resorts are a complex of multi-purpose facilities: hotels, convention centers, theaters, and facilities for other events. So if we successfully manage the casino parts, that will give us a lift; in particular increasing the number of visitors from outside. That is, inbound tourism. This would be in addition to the already robust trends around inbound tourism. So I hope the discussions among our lawmakers will bring about a comprehensive package of solutions.”

However, Japan’s national newspapers have been a lot more critical of the handling of the bill. In their editorials, the newspapers have voiced concerns over the “sudden development” of the bill, and have reiterated the need for more careful debate regarding the bill.

“We have opposed lifting the ban on casinos, and called for careful debate of the negative aspects, including gambling addiction,” wrote The Asahi.

“The LDP and other parties argue that the legislation will be delayed considerably if the chance is missed to pass the bill during the current Diet session. This is an utterly unscrupulous argument,” said The Yomiuri, noting that the bill was first submitted to the Diet in December 2013, but was killed due to the lower house dissolution in November 2014, then submitted again in April 2015 but not debated in the Diet.

The Mainichi was critical, stating, “Passing the bill without a proper debate is out of the question,” considering the issues that have been pointed out such as an increase in gambling addiction, and raised a question: “Gambling is banned by the penal code in the first place. What is the basis for making an exception for casinos?”

Regarding LDP and  Nippon Ishin no Kai’s “forced passage” of the bill, Sankei said:  “That is not what a bipartisan private member’s bill is supposed to look like.”

“Suddenly bringing up the bill and trying to lift the ban on casinos without any proper debate makes one question the judgement of the legislators.… Rushed passing of bills without the proper materials at hand to judge their worth cannot be forgiven.” added The Nikkei.

The newspapers have also pointed to gambling addiction as the biggest concern.

Nearly 5 percent of all adults, or 5.36 million people, showed signs of gambling addiction to horse racing, keirin (bicycle racing), and other gaming, according to The Asahi,  who quotes data released in 2014 by the research team of the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare.

The newspapers have also questioned the true economic benefit that the country would see with the passing of the bill.

The Nikkei gave an example of Macau’s casinos, which saw a decline in wealthy Chinese customers after the mainland’s crackdown on corruption. The newspapers said “there is a need to calmly debate this topic.”

Regarding stimulating regional economies, the daily pointed out how various large resorts built around Japan during the bubble economy declared bankruptcy, arguing, “Is there not a risk that this will end in the same result as the old Law for Development of Comprehensive Resort Areas (Resort Law)?”

“Placing expectations on the ‘squandering’ of gambling addicts, foreign tourists and the like while taking advantage of misery and misfortune is an extremely unwholesome growth strategy.” said The Yomiuri.

The Asahi, while stating that “some degree of economic impact can be expected,” it casted its doubts to have IRs ready by the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games or the World Expo 2025.

“The Olympics, the World Expo, and casinos are all European ideas. While Japan really be able to become a major tourist destination that can bring people in from around the world by relying on these concepts?”