Fed up with the delays in bringing integrated resort casinos to Japan’s shores, an upstart political party says it will introduce casino legislation to parliament on Friday. The Japan Restoration Party (JRP), an über-nationalist bunch that didn’t even exist this time last year, contributes 16 members to the 140-member cross-party lobby group (aka the Integrated Resort Giren). The IR Giren is supposedly clamoring to legalize casinos, but the JRP’s impatience with the hurry-up-and-wait debate prompted them to form their own casino committee in March. Sakihito Ozawa, leader of the JRP’s committee, said at the time that his party would act as the “engine” to pull casinos across the legislative finish line.
Ozawa also said that the JRP wouldn’t act without consulting the other parties, but the other parties had expressed a desire to delay legislation until after July’s elections for the upper House of Councillors. A source told Reuters that the JRP wanted to be seen as taking the initiative ahead of these elections. On Monday, the governor of Tokyo said he’d welcome a casino in the city’s waterfront district and that he expected parliamentarians to make the necessary legal changes “as soon as possible.”
However the JRP legislation is received by parliament, casinos are still a long way from taking their first wagers. In April, the IR Giren said that its own casino bill would take two years to become law following its introduction this fall. Japan is Asia’s second-largest economy, but its exports are declining, its population is aging and it’s still facing massive cleanup bills from the 2011 nuclear tsunami. A study by the Osaka University of Commerce concluded that, if rolled out nationally, Japan’s integrated resort casino business could be worth $44b annually. Even if confined to Tokyo and Osaka, the market would generate $10b, $2.5b of which would be the government’s share.
Yet resistance remains, including from the country’s mammoth pachinko industry, which generates $25b in annual revenue. They’ve had a good long ride as the closest thing Japan has to casino gambling, although some forward looking operators have begun to position themselves to increase their chance of earning casino licenses when the happy day arrives. The general public is a little more on board, as a poll conducted by financial services outfit CLSA discovered. Casinos were favored by 43% of respondents, over twice the 20% opposed, although a significant 37% claimed to be on the fence. Given the pace of the legislative process, they’ve got plenty of time in which to make up their minds.