Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Japan Casino ID Checks Could Deter Customers, Lawmaker Says

  • Panel head says treating gambling as bad will hamper resorts
  • Take-up of government ID cards stuck at 9 percent as of May

Japan could deter customers from its casinos if it forces gamblers to submit their social security numbers before entering, according to the head of a ruling party panel working on plans for the Singapore-style resorts.

Lawmaker Takeshi Iwaya’s comments indicate a potential clash between bureaucrats and politicians as they prepare a bill to regulate gambling resorts following their legalization late last year. Speaking in an interview, Iwaya also called for the legal framework to allow casinos to be opened in regions, as well as major cities. The panel meets later Wednesday.

The government is planning to submit a bill on casino operations to parliament in autumn, with the first such resorts expected to open their doors sometime in the early to mid 2020s. The world’s major casino operators, including Las Vegas Sands Corp, Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd, Wynn Resorts Ltd and MGM Resorts International, have expressed interest in a market expected to generate billions of dollars in revenue.

"It’s important to make sure access doesn’t become extremely restricted," LDP panel head Takeshi Iwaya said on Monday, when asked about the use of social security numbers. "These will be leisure and entertainment facilities, so they must be friendly to customers and we mustn’t go too far" with attempts to prevent wrongdoing. He suggested passports and drivers’ licenses as alternative forms of ID.

Public Concerns

Bureaucrats are seeking to resolve public concerns over gambling addiction and money laundering in a country where crime rates are low. An expert panel working with officials said government identification cards with chips that contain data including social security numbers should be a requirement for entry by residents of Japan, including foreigners.

This would be a stricter requirement than in the U.S., where social security numbers are required only when collecting winnings over a certain limit. Foreign tourists in Japan should be allowed to use their passports as ID, the expert panel said last month.

Strict entry requirements for residents of Japan would lessen the attractiveness of the market for casino operators who hope that local visitors will become a pillar of their gaming revenue.

Japan introduced social security numbers less than two years ago amid widespread public unease and lawsuits by individuals concerned about data security and potential invasions of privacy. A campaign to make sure all Japanese and foreign residents have what is known as a "My Number" card has stumbled, with only 9 percent of the population in possession of such cards as of May.

"Even if we use them, we must avoid any data leaks or having people’s activities monitored by the government," Iwaya said. "If enjoying gambling is treated as a bad thing, the integrated resorts won’t be a success."

Smaller cities have already expressed annoyance that the bidding framework for casino licenses may exclude them and run counter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of reviving Japan’s regions.

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