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Lawson CEO to Join New Japan Group to Back Casino Legalization

Mock Casino in Tokyo
A dealer works at a roulette table at Casino Venus, a mock casino operated by Japan Casino School and Bright Inc. to provide the gambling experience, in the VenusFort shopping outlet in Tokyo. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Business leaders including top executives at Lawson Inc. and Suntory Holdings Ltd. are joining forces to back the legalization of casinos in Japan, a proposal that could open up what’s estimated to be the world’s second-largest gaming market.

Lawson Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Niinami and Suntory Executive Vice President Shingo Torii are among corporate and academic leaders forming a group to support a legalization bill introduced by lawmakers, said Hiroshi Mizohata, a former head of the Japan Tourism Agency, who will also be a member.

Niinami, who heads Japan’s second-biggest convenience store chain, and Torii of the country’s third-biggest brewer expect to add momentum behind a bill submitted last month by lawmakers from Japan’s ruling party to legalize resorts that combine casinos with hotels and convention centers. Casino operators from MGM Resorts International to Wynn Resorts Ltd. plan to spend billions of dollars to build gambling resorts in Japan if they’re legalized, the companies have said.

Along with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, allowing casino resorts in Japan “will provide a spark for not just tourism, but also for the revitalization of local economies in the countryside,” Mizohata said in an interview. “We want to get various stakeholders involved.”

The group will work closely with lawmakers in support of the bill, make policy recommendations in collaboration with local governments and companies, and advocate for legalization to the public, Mizohata said. It will have a preparatory meeting on Feb. 5 and be officially formed around May, he said.

Self-Funded

The organization plans to recruit members from local governments, business lobbies and companies, and will be financed by membership fees, Mizohata said. He said the group won’t accept funding from casino operators.

While betting on horse, boat and bicycle races is allowed in the world’s third-largest economy, casinos are banned. Legalizing them may generate $10 billion in annual revenue, according to Union Gaming Group, a Las Vegas- and Macau-based investment bank focused on the casino industry.

Macau, home to China’s only legal casinos, is the world’s largest gambling hub.

Lawmakers pushing for legalization have said they intend to pass a bill asking the government to create a legal framework for casinos in the current parliamentary session. A subsequent bill detailing the rules of casino operations would also need to be approved.

To contact the reporter on this story: Yuki Yamaguchi in Tokyo at yyamaguchi10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dave McCombs at dmccombs@bloomberg.net

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