asino gambling would "help promote tourism, encourage business, create jobs, and boost local development," Takeshi Iwaya, a lawmaker from the biggest opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, told the Wall Street Journal this week. "Neighboring areas are contemplating similar plans, so if we don't hurry, we may risk missing out on a big opportunity."
The Wall Street Journal noted that a group of 150 lawmakers from the ruling party and five opposition parties have come together in a rare show of unity to embrace gambling. Japan could see casino games within two years.
American casino companies, facing a bleak outlook for growth in the U.S., also see big opportunities. Sheldon Adelson, chief executive of Las Vegas Sands, a vocal supporter of the campaign for at least five years, will give a speech in Tokyo Tuesday titled "The Economic Benefits of Integrated Resort Development." Mr. Adelson touted Japan's casino campaign in a call with analysts earlier this month, and he follows a string of other casino executives to travel to Japan in recent years.
Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn has also embraced the campaign, though his impact may be muddied by his messy breakup with his erstwhile Japanese business partner Kazuo Okada.Still, although experts say the legislation holds the most promise in overcoming parliamentary objections than ever before, proponents concede a backlog of heftier issues may possibly derail the issue from advancing to the next critical stage.
While gambling is currently technically illegal in Japan, the government does allow betting on bicycle, motorboat, motorcycle and horse racing. And pachinko, a popular vertical pinball-like game, is similar to the slot machines lining the casino palaces of Vegas. Mr. Okada earned his fortune as a pachinko manufacturer.
Japanese lawmakers have been weighing measures to legalize casinos for 10 years, but the campaign so far has stalled. Advocates have been fighting concerns that introducing casinos would create a generation of gambling addicts or spur a new crime wave—and also that it would provide new power to Japan's still-influential organized crime syndicates. It didn't help when the chairman of a Japanese paper company was arrested last year for allegedly skimming money from the company to cover casino gambling debts from overseas trips. That case "has spread the notion of how risky casinos are," a lawmaker from the Communist Party—one of the few that doesn't back casinos—said during a December parliamentary debate.
Public opinion surveys in Japan have generally shown strong support. Two newspaper polls in 2011 showed more than 60% of those surveyed were in favor of allowing casinos. But a December poll conducted by Toyo Keizai, a leading business magazine, had a different result: 40% of those surveyed were in favor of allowing casinos in Japan, and 47% were opposed.