Japan’s ruling party rolled the dice Friday on a long-awaited bill that could see casinos legalised in a market viewed as a potential global gaming powerhouse.
A legislative committee sent the proposed law to the powerful lower house of parliament for a vote, possibly as early as next week. If passed, it would then go to the upper house before becoming law.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which controls both chambers of parliament, are betting that casinos can help boost tourism as Tokyo gets set to host the 2020 Olympics.
Backers have said green lighting casinos could bring billions of dollars worth of investment, in a challenge to Asian gaming titan Macau.
The former Portuguese colony has struggled to recover since a corruption crackdown by Chinese President Xi Jinping and an economic slowdown since mid-2014 drove away many mainland high-rollers.
Japan has long been viewed as the Holy Grail of Asian gaming due to its wealthy population, close proximity to China and appetite for other forms of legal gambling, including horse and boat racing.
Pachinko, a slot machine-style game played in thousands of smoky parlours in every corner of Japan, is a huge revenue generator. Winnings can be exchanged offsite for cash, skirting gaming laws.
But casinos do not have wide public support owing to concerns about gambling addiction and the involvement of organised crime.
The arrest of several professional baseball players for betting on their sport made headlines last year, while an Olympic badminton hopeful crashed out after admitting he gambled at an underground casino.
Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party as well as some members of Komeito, the ruling party’s junior coalition partner, oppose casino legislation, although it could still become law.
The top-selling, centre-right Yomiuri newspaper cautioned against taking a gamble on casinos.
“Gamblers’ losses are what makes the casinos money,” it said in an editorial Friday.
“It’s truly unhealthy to build a growth strategy on exploiting others people’s misfortune and bad luck.”