WEEKLY FEATURE: Still a Pulse for Japan Casino Bill

Amid fading hopes that Japan’s parliament will act this year to legalize casinos, a leading advocate for the stalled bill in the Diet says it could come up for discussion by lawmakers this week. If that happens, there is still a chance the bill could be approved in a special session in the fall, he says.

Japan’s Diet is expected to bring a bill to legalize casino gambling up for discussion this week with a view to marshaling support by postponing a vote on the measure until the fall. The hopes comes just days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured the Singapore casinos and came away very impressed.

“We are getting close to starting debate,” said Takeshi Iwaya, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a leading casino proponent in the lower house of the legislature. “It is best to strike while the iron is hot.”

A group of more than 200 lawmakers led by the LDP had originally hoped to start debate in late April or early May, but it has taken a back seat to other legislation, and appeared dead for 2014.

Now, with time running short, Iwaya acknowledged that lawmakers may fail to achieve their original goal of getting the bill passed by both chambers during the current session ending on June 22. But kicking off debate in the lower house now, where backing for the bill is strong, would ensure the bill remains in discussion and is carried over into an expected special session in the fall, allowing proponents to “keep a grip” on the bill, he said. The strategy reflects concerns that the bill could be defeated if it were rushed into the hands of the upper House of Councillors, where support is weaker. Sources tell GGB News that the bill would be “at the top” of the legislative agenda in the fall session.

If the current bill passes in the fall, debate will move on to a second bill concerning concrete regulations, which proponents hope can be passed in 2015. The delayed debate, however, has raised concerns the bill may not be adopted this year, which would make it difficult for developers to build resorts in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And if there is no debate at all, the bill will fail to even be considered this year casting doubt on any future hopes.

Brokerage CLSA estimates that Japan could become Asia’s biggest gambling market after Macau, raking in revenues of at least US$40 billion annually and with many more years of growth before it starts to mature, and the prospects have attracted interest from most of the major global operators.