TOKYO Oct 18 Moves to allow casinos in Japan
have failed for 15 years, but the chance of success has improved
sharply, people involved in the effort say, thanks to political
shifts that could open the world's next great frontier for
The Japanese public opposes casinos by 2-to-1 on concerns
such as gambling addiction, yet insiders say political momentum
has shifted in favour of the latest in a string of bills
proposing to legalise them.
Companies from Las Vegas Sands Corp to domestic
game-machine maker Sega Sammy Holdings Inc stand to
benefit if casinos come to what CLSA estimates could be a $40
billion annual market, the world's second-biggest after the
"Integrated resorts will be a headline attraction for
Japan's growth strategy," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in
2014, referring to projects that combine casinos with hotels,
shopping and conference facilities. "We will continue to
consider them from the viewpoint of how to attract people from
around the world."
A landslide July election win for Abe's Liberal Democratic
Party, the elevation of key gambling proponents in the LDP,
division in Abe's junior coalition partner and a relatively
uncrowded parliamentary schedule all increase the likelihood
casinos could finally get the nod.
"There's a near 100 percent chance" of the bill being
debated in the session ending Nov. 30, said Hiroyuki Hosoda,
head of the main pro-casino parliamentary group and one of three
casino proponents recently named to top LDP spots.
If the bill makes it to committee, it is virtually assured
of success given the LDP's dominance of both houses of
Backers say casinos would boost tourism, a success of
"Abenomics". A sharp fall in the yen under easy-money stimulus
and relaxed visa rules have led to a flood in visitors,
especially from China, since Abe swept to power in December
Foreign tourists surged to 19.7 million last year from 8.4
million in 2012, but Abe's target of 40 million a year by 2020
and for doubling the 3.5 trillion yen ($34 billion) they spend
annually is under threat.
With the yen rebounding over the past year and visitors
spending less per person, a second wind for tourism could help
Japanese banks, manufacturers, construction firms and travel
Japan already has gambling aplenty, from ubiquitous
"pachinko" pinball halls - officially tolerated despite a hazy
legal status - to government-backed betting on horse, boat and
bicycle races. But these pastimes tend to be low-stakes and
aren't popular with the deep-pocketed foreign visitors Japan
The public also isn't on board, with opinion polls in recent
years indicate casino opponents outnumber supporters by around
65 percent to 30 percent. Still, with support for Abenomics
robust, the premier has used his political clout to push through
other unpopular measures, such a more assertive military and a
tough official secrets act.
Though reticent to discuss their lobbying efforts, Las Vegas
Sands, MGM Resorts International and Caesars
Entertainment Corp said they are watching political
developments in Japan with interest.
"We are encouraged by what seems to be growing momentum for
integrated resorts in Japan," Steven Tight, president of
international development at Caesars, told Reuters.
Beneficiaries in Japan would include machine makers Sega
Sammy and Konami Holdings Corp, as well H.I.S. Co Ltd
, a major travel agency jockeying to develop a casino in
southern Japan, said Jun Kitazawa, an analyst of Miki Securities
Sega Sammy expects a "constructive debate" in parliament,
said spokesman Hiroyuki Komine.
Casino proponents are right to be cautious: previous hopes
have been dashed as bills languished in parliament, victims of a
busy legislative calendar, as well as to opposition from some
elements of Abe's coalition.
But those barriers have fallen in recent months, three
advocates of casinos say.
In a July election, Abe's LDP secured a majority in the
upper house of parliament. It can now enact laws without junior
partner Komeito, which is split on casinos.
In August, Abe picked 77-year-old veteran lawmaker Toshihiro
Nikai as number two in the LDP, replacing a lawmaker seen as
cautious on casinos. According to the three advocates, Nikai's
elevation, along with Hosoda and Toshimitsu Motegi to top LDP
posts, mean it's more likely the casino bill will reach the
Nikai is considered close to LDP partner Komeito and will
ensure the Buddhist-backed party is placated to ensure the
bill's passage, the three say. The LDP will want Komeito's help
on legislation to implement any law legalising casinos.
"He's considerate towards Komeito, that's his greatest
strength," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda, a
casino supporter, told Reuters. "In that sense, momentum (for
the casino bill) is building."
($1 = 102.90 yen)
(Reporting by Thomas Wilson and Emi Emoto; Additional reporting
by Farah Master in Hong Kong; Editing by William Mallard and