ccording to a report by the Financial Times, a low-key parliamentary committee is meeting in Tokyo this week to discuss the proposal, one that has historically encountered obstruction from members of Komeito, the ruling Liberal Democratic party’s main coalition partner.
The revived, and potentially definitive, push for casino legalisation in Japan accordingly follows a prolonged cycle of excitement and disappointment that began in the late 1990s and came close to realisation in 2014.
This time, however, has a greater sense of finality. The parliamentary affairs committee meeting on Friday will set out the legislative agenda for the extraordinary Diet session that begins later this month.
The session, which will run from late September to late November, is expected to see Mr Abe attempt reignite his “Abenomics” economic programme with labour market reform proposals before he concentrates efforts on driving landmark constitutional change at the regular Diet session next year.
To the delight of both the international gaming industry and a substantial list of Japanese companies that could benefit from a change in the law, the agenda for the extraordinary session is now likely to include a debate on the so-called integrated resort promotion bill that would set casino legalisation in motion
And while objections are still likely to flare, proponents of casino gambling in Japan have gained sustained momentum under Mr Abe and support from cabinet ministers including Taro Aso, finance minister. The July election of Yuriko Koike as the first female governor of Tokyo, say analysts, puts another powerful proponent on the side of the casinos, and the LDP’s newly won two-thirds majority in the upper house of Japan’s parliament bolsters the chances of success.
Casino proponents want to see legalisation accelerated so preparations could be made to build and open Japan’s first casino resort by 2023 to help drive economic revitalisation after the 2020 Olympics.
Beyond the usual political obstructions the biggest obstacle could be time, said Jay Defibaugh, leisure industry analyst at CLSA. Even with the casino bill on the Diet agenda, the time available for debate is tight.
In a note to clients on Tuesday, Mr Defibaugh placed a “less than 50 per cent chance that the first stage integrated resorts promotion bill will be passed during the extraordinary Diet session”.
If the bill is delayed beyond autumn 2017, say analysts, it could fall further down the agenda as Tokyo and the rest of the country prepare for the 2020 Olympics
“It is kind of a last chance to have this discussion for a while,” said Takashi Kiso, chief executive of the Tokyo-based International Casino Institute, adding that there was a year-long window to secure legalisation. “After that, even though Mr Abe is pro-casino, he is going to start discussing constitutional change and that debate could last forever.”
If the bill does not pass, say people familiar with the matter, major international casino names such as Las Vegas Sands, Wynn, Genting and MGM that have invested heavily in promoting the case of casino gaming in Japan are likely to “reconsider their commitment” to the effort after more than a decade of lobbying.