Japan moves closer towards legalizing casinos, opens US$40 billion market

A “pachinko” center, an important feature of Japan’s gambling entertainment. Pic: monotoomono/Shutterstock

FOR a long time, casino gambling has been outlawed in Japan, but the lower house of parliament yesterday voted through a bill that could see the lifting of the country’s casino ban.  

The Financial Times reported that this could potentially open up a US$40 billion market, and could also fulfil a longtime wish of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since he took over office in 2012.

The PM has been openly supportive of the move, who has said that legalizing casino gambling will boost tourism and attract investment. If the bill passes in the upper house, U.S. casino companies are expected to show interest.

However, the passing of the bill wouldn’t necessarily legalize casino gambling immediately. The Wall Street Journal reported that the move would call on regulators to draw up plans on specific issues such as licensing operators and keeping out gambling addicts.

The report added that advocates of the move agree that it could significantly tourism, as well as grow the country’s MICE sector by luring in international conferences.

On the other hand, critics said that legal gambling could encourage money laundering as well as grow the nation’s number of gambling addicts.

Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Akira Koike, said, “I can’t see how this could be justified as an economic growth strategy because it just fleeces money from citizens.”

At the moment, the nation’s favorite form of gambling is “pachinko”, a mechanical “pinball derivative” where small steel balls are shot vertically using a knob on the lower right hand corner of the machine.

The machines can be found in noisy, garishly lit arcades or halls, and are an integral feature of Japan’s gambling entertainment. In 2015, the game pumped in a whopping US$35 billion in gross gaming revenues.

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