Japan Lawmakers Group Submits Legislation to Legalize Casinos

A cross-party group of lawmakers submitted a bill Tuesday to legalize casinos in Japan, paving the way for parliamentary debate on the ethics of gambling resorts.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs the support of Komeito, his Buddhist-backed junior coalition partner, to get the legislation through the upper chamber of parliament. Should it pass, a further bill setting rules for operating resorts would have to be approved before any building could start.

While betting on horse, boat and bicycle races is allowed, casinos remain banned. International gaming companies have been mulling billions of dollars in investment as Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympic Games, promising to increase the number of tourists coming to Japan. CLSA Ltd. estimates that Japan could turn into Asia’s second-largest gambling hub that’s worth $40 billion in annual revenue as early as 2025.

Lawmaker group chairman Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters that Japan needs casino resorts to spur large-scale tourism growth. Various other important bills would also be debated in the current Diet session, due to end June, he added.

In an interview in November last year, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said the public lacked “full understanding” of the casino issue and said there were potential drawbacks, such as the impact on young people.

More than 5 million Japanese, about 5 percent of the population, are addicted to gambling, the Asahi newspaper reported in August last year, citing a study by a health ministry panel. About 8.7 percent of adult male Japanese are habitual gamblers, along with 1.8 percent of females, according to the study.

The bill submitted Tuesday replaces one that was withdrawn when Abe dissolved parliament for a general election in December last year.

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