Japan’s pro-casino legislators sense opportunity in Komeito party ranks

japan-casino-legislation-opportunityJapan‘s legislators have made good on their promise to revive their long-stalled push to legalize casino gambling.

On Thursday, senior members of the group of lawmakers who crafted the country’s Integrated Resorts study bill held a meeting to confirm their intention to pass the legislation in the Diet’s current session, which runs until late November.

Japan’s constitution prohibits casino gambling, so legislators must approve a bill that would amend the constitution. Only after that can they get around to passing legislation that would spell out the nuts and bolts of casino licensing and regulation. But despite years of attempts, legislators have been unable to bring the IR study bill up for a vote.

On Thursday, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Diet’s pro-casino faction had been spurred by the August appointment of Toshihiro Nikai as secretary general of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Nikai is an avowed supporter of the IR plan, unlike his predecessor Sadakazu Tanigaki. On Wednesday, Nikai told reporters that it was important to “openly and squarely speak of [integrated resorts’] necessity and make efforts to gain public support of them.”

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda agreed, emphasizing Japan’s need to keep up with its Asian counterparts in the “bidding war” to host international exhibitions and conferences. Hagiuda said integrated resorts can be “an extremely effective tool” in convincing international developers to build “exhibition sites and other such facilities.”

The LDP now holds an absolute majority in the Diet and thus technically no longer requires the consent of its coalition partner, the conservative Komeito party, but the consensus is that Japan as a nation will view casinos more kindly if there’s cross-party support. On Wednesday, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi appeared unmoved, saying legislators “must be very careful about introducing casinos that would be given exceptions on gambling offences.”

But a senior LDP official told the Yomiuri Shimbun that “there is a chance Komeito could be persuaded” on the merits of casinos. Some individual members of Komeito have issued statements of support for the casino plan and the hope is that Komeito’s leadership will allow a free vote on the bill, if and when it comes up for a vote.