Japanese casino bill on a knife-edge

casinoThe odds on the Japanese parliament passing legislation to legalise casino gambling in time for the 2020 Olympics appear to be lengthening. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s is amongst those trying to push through a bill that will legalise casino gambling, but the bill is facing stiff opposition within the Japanese parliament.

The likelihood of the necessary legislation being agreed in time to take advantage of the surge in tourism that the Olympic Games are expected to generate receded when the bill’s proponents were forced to put back the parliamentary debate on the matter.

That debate had been expected to get under way in October but the vagaries of Japanese politics saw that hope quashed as other more immediately pressing issues took precedence. Proponents are desperately hoping that the subject can be brought before parliament early in November, but with a parliament set to go into recess on the 30th of the month time is running out.

In a situation that is paralleled across various jurisdictions in Europe the Japanese situation appears to be in a state of flux as the financial benefits of the gambling and casino industries are contested by more conservative bodies. In Japan the two camps have established quite entrenched positions – a similar bill to the current effort was rejected two years ago.

The economic argument however appears irrefutable. The Japanese casino market has been assessed as offering an economic boost to the national economy – based on tourist and associated incomes – of as much as $40 billion. Not only is such a huge level of economic activity valuable in and of itself, it also offers a huge boost in tax revenues. At a time when the Japanese economy is running a sub-optimal level, and whilst the costs of the 2011 tsunami are still being absorbed, that is revenue that is hard to reject.

Even if the parliamentary moves to get the debate aired before parliament closes for the winter there is no guarantee that it will carry the necessary majority of votes. The lines that cut across this issue run deep and the economic argument appears to carry only a limited weight when it comes to overcoming the prejudices of the conservative lobby.

Even in territories such as the Northern region of Miyagi, where the 2011 tsunami’s effects are still being felt, plans for a casino there are contested. Despite a healthy local majority who are keen to do anything they can to regenerate the region’s battered economy, opposition persists.

“With a casino, we can increase the number of people coming and going,” Takayoshi Konno, 74, an assemblyman who belongs to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party told reporters recently.

“There is so much we must do for reconstruction, and we’ll need more fiscal spending. We need to do all we can to secure revenue in different ways.

With the Olympics seen as a key plank in proponents’ arguments for passing the casino gaming legislation the whole issue is hinging on some split second parliamentary timing. If the parliamentary bill fails to progress before the winter break the legislative and logistical time-scales will take the Olympics out of the equation – in the process removing the current urgency from the pro-gaming lobby’s argument.

November promises to be a tense month for everyone involved.