Japan’s casino industry could offer lifeline to fading Yakuza


japan-yakuza-casinosCasino operator Las Vegas Sands trotted out Posh Spice’s husband in a bid to impress the Japanese public on Sands’ ability to build the finest zig-a-zig-ah casino in the land (of the rising sun).

Wednesday saw Sands executives hold a news conference in Tokyo to pimp the company’s interest in securing one of what’s expected to be an extremely limited number of Japanese integrated resort licenses. Sands supremo Sheldon Adelson has previously vowed/boasted that his company will spend whatever it takes to make its Japanese resort a world-renowned attraction.

Sands’ presentation included former football great David Beckham, who has become a regular fixture at Sands events since signing a marketing partnership with the company four years ago. Beckham professed his love of sushi while insisting that he heartily endorsed this particular event and/or product.

Also on hand was music mogul Irving Azoff, and one of Azoff’s longtime clients, former Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, who politely explained that Japan’s existing music venues were crap and the only solution was to let Sands build a state-of-the-art performance venue at its Japanese resort so that world-class musicians’ tours would finally stop making detours around Japan in search of places with working electricity. (We’re paraphrasing.)

Japan recently postponed plans to approve secondary casino legislation until next year due to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s snap election call. But the Diet also needs to pass problem gambling legislation, a requirement that took on new urgency following this week’s publication of new problem gambling statistics.

As if Japan’s public wasn’t already skittish enough about the prospects of expanded gambling options, Forbes just stirred the pot further by claiming that casinos could inadvertently provide the funds needed to reinvigorate Japan’s fading organized crime groups, the fabled Yakuza (the only people in Japan more tattooed than Beckham).

The Forbes article, written by David Suzuki – not the noted Canadian environmentalist but risk advisory firm Blackpeak’s head of global Japanese business – notes that Japan’s government plans to restrict its citizens’ financial dealings in casinos, including keeping ATMs off the casino floor and restricting chip purchases to cash-only, while foreigners will be allowed to buy chips with their credit cards.

Suzuki suggests that the Yakuza will be only too happy to fill this credit gap for local residents, and not just by offering high-interest loans. Suzuki warns that yakuza members might try to infiltrate the casino companies themselves, either by gaining employment directly or by gathering blackmail-worthy info on casino executives.

Japan’s government has already suggested getting police to help screen for ‘undesirable’ casino license applicants, but whichever casino operators eventually win the coveted Japanese licenses, Suzuki suggests they defend their turf by doing proper due diligence when hiring staff, educating staff on how they could become vulnerable to yakuza influence and maintaining robust cyber security.