WEEKLY FEATURE: Help for Japanese Casino Bill?

A bill to legalize casino gaming in Japan has been repeatedly delayed, dashing hopes by supporters that the country can get resorts up and running in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics. But some analysts think the bill still has a chance. If so, American Gaming Association President & CEO Geoff Freeman (l.) is ready to help.

Current session ends June 24

Japanese lawmakers have taken their time considering a bill that would legalize casino gaming in the country. Supporters originally hoped to see the legislation pass in March, at the end of the last fiscal year. However, despite support for the bill from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that deadline came and went without a decision.

Union Gaming Research Macau Ltd. says the bill could still pass during the country’s current parliamentary session, which ends June 24. According to GGRAsia, analysts Grant Govertsen and Felicity Chiang say they are “cautiously optimistic” that casino gaming could finally be approved. But “much will need to fall into place to make it a reality,” they wrote in a note to investors.

Casino supporters slightly outnumber opponents in the Japanese Diet, or parliament, but the opposition is powerful and includes the Buddhist-backed Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner. “Earlier this month, the Komeito “agrees to allow the senior coalition partner, the Liberal Democratic Party, to submit the casino bill,” wrote the analysts. “But Komeito’s allowing the bill to be submitted is quite different than Komeito agreeing to support the bill en bloc, which would give us greater confidence in the bill’s passage.”

Osaka and Yokohama are considered the best locations for integrated resorts, according to the Japan Times. International gaming companies such as the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Resorts International are interested in Japan, but have said they may move on to South Korea if Japanese lawmakers do not take action soon.

Several major international operators have shown interest in investing in Japan if casino gambling is legalized there. Investment analysts have suggested Japan could become the second largest casino market in Asia by gross gaming revenue, surpassed only by Macau.

Govertsen and Chang have advised industry watchers that action on the bill “could heat up towards the end of May.”

Casino legalization in Japan requires an enabling bill followed by a second statute that would designate the number of casino licenses, locations, tax rates and whether locals would be allowed to gamble at home. If an enabling bill is passed sometime in 2015, the implementation bill “would, in theory, follow in the next legislative session in 2016,” wrote the analysts.

Most of the casino operators that have plans to build have expressed concern that if a bill is not passed in the current session of the Diet, which will end June 24, there may not be enough time to get casinos up in time for the Olympics.

While the hopes of Japan opening its first casino before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are fading, the American Gaming Association is offering help for Japan to legalize gambling. Geoff Freeman, president of the association and CEO, told Japanese media, “We can be helpful by providing information and experiences.”

He added U.S. casino operators “would be well suited to be partners in Japan.” Furthermore, Freeman said they “can provide not only gaming experiences, but also high-end experiences like nightlife and entertainment.” In addition to the United States, Macau and Singapore have expressed interest in expanding to Japan.

Although a gaming bill has shown support from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, several delays have come along. Many suspect the opposition comes from the Buddhist-backed Komeito, a minority coalition partner, who claims that gambling would not be socially responsible.

In 2014, MGM Resorts International announced plans to build a $10 billion integrated casino resort in Osaka if a bill is passed. The Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which has already invested in Asia, has hinted they too would get involved.