Japan bets on casinos to boost economy

In the near future Japanese gamblers may no longer need to jump on a plane to Macau or Hong Kong for their casino fix. If legislation is passed the first Japanese casinos could be up and running by 2015. Diet members in five different political parties have already indicated their support for the idea believing that allowing legalized gambling to flourish will generate jobs, boost tourism and provide badly needed revenue in a country burdened with massive public debt and trillions of yen in rebuilding costs for the earthquake devastated Tohoku region.

Gambling in Japan is currently limited to betting on “public sports” such as horse, motorboat, bicycle and motorcycle racing. 2010 figures show this generated about ¥4.3 trillion in gambling receipts. Pachinko and lotteries, both incredibly popular in Japan are classified by the government as “amusements.” In the case of pachinko, prizes are exchanged for cash off the premises (officially, that is). Recent estimates for pachinko industry revenue by economists and police range between ¥20 trillion and ¥30 trillion, which, if true, would make the pachinko industry as large as, if not larger than, the huge Japanese auto industry.

The biggest proponents of casinos say they could rival the pachinko industry in income. A recent study by the city of Chiba suggested that building a resort in the Makuhari area, not far from Tokyo Disneyland and Narita airport, might bring in ¥800 billion annually. Municipalities ranging from Hokkaido to Osaka to Okinawa are also doing their own studies.

Looking at the examples of thriving Macau, as well as U.S. casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Las Vegas and their riverboat and Native American reservation counterparts, the advocates for a new casino law stress that gambling income will only be a small part of the overall revenue generated by ‘family-oriented’ resort complexes combining luxury hotels, convention and shopping venues with good restaurants, museums and other cultural attractions.

Opponents, however, warn that gambling will cause crime to surge and inflict other social ills upon the country. The Japanese Communist Party has raised concerns that gambling addictions and other social problems will be compounded by the legalization of casinos. Other critics see casino resorts as simply another series of projects designed to benefit the LDP and the construction industry. Senior National Police Agency officials have also voiced their concern about the introduction of legalized casinos, citing the adverse effect they will have on society and the need to ensure yakuza can’t get involved. Even the mighty pachinko industry is anxious as many smaller pachinko parlor outfits fear a loss of income.

Sourced from The Japan Times

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