As Japanese lawmakers tackle the issue of legalized casinos and integrated resorts, a subject that has been mired in controversy and allegations of bribery, the country is still determined to move forward with its plans. In an effort to ensure that at least one of the concerns over legalized gambling is met head-on, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MOH) now indicates that treatment for gambling addiction will be covered by public health insurance. This, the government hopes, will put to ease some of the more resilient anti-gambling voices.
The MOH updated its schedule of medical fees on February 7. According to The Japan News, the changes came about after an advisory panel, the Central Social Medical Insurance Council, suggested several updates, including gambling addiction coverage and new medical service fees, among others. Susumu Higuchi, the director of the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, weighed in on the subject, explaining, “Gambling addicts need to submit to a follow-up program on a long-term basis. There are many people who have not sought treatment. It is important to have them undergo therapy and rein in the number of patients.”
In 2017, the Japanese government conducted a survey to try to understand how extensive gambling was in the country. It determined that around 3.2 million Japanese, out of a total population of 124.8 million, could be classified as having a gambling problem, with pachinko being the most popular choice. In 2014, there were 2,019 registered gamblers in outpatient programs, a number that increased to 3,499 within three years. However, overall, the MOH believes that as many as 700,000 Japanese citizens could be addicted to gambling.
There are plans in place to construct or designate facilities and clinics specifically for gambling problem patients in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Those facilities are expected to be operational by March of next year, and 35 were already in place by August of last year. The addition of insurance coverage by the state should help boost interest in setting up new clinics, as well as attract new practitioners to provide treatment programs.
The new insurance coverage will, at least in a small way, help to counter concerns that legalizing integrated resorts will lead to a country full of gambling addicts. According to some psychologists, an addict is an addict, and will find a target for the addiction, whether it is gambling, fast food or some other vice. However, gamblers are going to find a way to gamble – legal or illegal – and offering public protection is the best way to ensure those who go too far can get the assistance they need.