Abe Allies Divided on Sending Casino Bill to Diet This Year

Differences among members of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition partner mean the party may not back submitting a bill to legalize casinos in the current session of parliament.

“I don’t necessarily think we will reach consensus on submitting the bill to the current session and moving forward with it in the limited time we have,” Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the New Komeito party, said in an interview today in Tokyo.

A cross-party group of lawmakers has said it is preparing to submit the casino legalization bill to parliament in the current session, ending on Dec. 6. They hope this will boost tourism by leading to the development of “integrated resorts,” with gambling alongside other kinds of entertainment.

While betting on horse, boat and bicycle races is allowed, casinos remain banned. Union Gaming Group estimates Japan could turn into the world’s second-largest gambling hub with $10 billion in annual revenue. International gaming companies have been mulling billions of dollars in investment as Tokyo’s selection to host the 2020 Olympics Games boosts confidence casinos will be legalized.

Yamaguchi said the public lacked “full understanding” of the casino issue and said there were potential drawbacks, such as the effect on young people. If the bill is not submitted now, it would have to wait for the next parliamentary session starting in January.

MGM, Wynn

Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. Deputy Chairman Francis Lui said in a Nov. 15 interview the casino operator would consider investing at least $5 billion in Japan and Taiwan if allowed. Wynn Resorts Ltd. said on Sept. 18 it will consider investing more than $4 billion in Japan casino resorts, while MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle said the company would spend “several” billion dollars.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has been in coalition with the Buddhist-backed New Komeito for more than a decade and relies on the smaller party for votes in constituencies where Komeito does not put up a candidate.

Tax Woes

On the consumption tax, Yamaguchi’s party is seeking lower rates for daily necessities to lessen the effect on low-income households of a slated increase to 10 percent in 2015. The tax will first rise to 8 percent in April 2014 from the current 5 percent.

“It is the government’s duty to provide permanent ways of helping those on low incomes,” he said in the interview. “I don’t see any other desirable option at this point.”

Yamaguchi expressed concern about a proposal from an internal affairs ministry panel that taxes on small-capacity “minicars” be increased. He said the small vehicles help lessen environmental pollution and are an inexpensive means of transport, particularly for those living in rural areas.

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