Japan casino lobby in legalisation push; market may outstrip Vegas

Written by Reuters | Tokyo/Hong Kong | Updated: Apr 24 2013, 07:36am hrs
After Singapore, Japan A pro-casino group of Japanese lawmakers has tapped an influential member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as its leader and plans to submit legislation this year aimed at opening the worlds third-largest economy to casino gambling.

Although casinos are illegal, Japanese are already active gamblers, and a pinball-like game called pachinko generates some $200 billion in revenue each year about the same as Toyota Motor. Japan is often touted as the next major casino market after Chinese enclave Macau, the worlds biggest gambling hub, which raked in revenue of $38 billion last year.

A large and wealthy population coupled with a proximity to Shanghai and Beijing has the potential to transform Japan into a lucrative gaming centre, providing tax revenues to shore up the states ailing finances, analysts say. Broker CLSA estimates Japans gaming market could be worth at least $10 billion if two large-scale integrated resorts are approved more than Singapores $5.9 billion and Las Vegas $6.2 billion in 2012.

The cross-party casino group aims to submit a promotional bill to parliament in the autumn, which could be followed by concrete laws within two years, Takeshi Iwaya, the deputy head of the lobby of more than 100 lawmakers, said.

Submitting a bill would mark progress for a pro-casino camp that has struggled to gain traction for more than a decade even as other Asian countries develop multi-billion dollar resorts to attract tourists and investment. A major roadblock in Japan has been the near constant change in political leadership. But hopes have been raised by the return to power in December elections of the business-friendly LDP under popular prime minister Shinzo Abe, who has indicated he is open to the idea of casino resorts.

The group will introduce Hiroyuki Hosoda, a veteran LDP lawmaker and former chief cabinet secretary, as its new chairman at a meeting on Wednesday. Hosoda will have the ear of the administration, an important piece of the puzzle that has been lacking in recent years, Iwaya said.

You need both sides of the equation before things really get moving. We want to make that happen this year, said Iwaya, whose group is proposing an integrated resorts model that incorporates tourism, conventions and entertainment, as well as casino gambling.