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Japan reopens debate on legislation to legalize casinos

Japanese lawmakers reopened debate Wednesday afternoon on a bill to legalize casinos, raising the possibility the legislation will be passed as soon as next month.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs the support of his Buddhist-backed junior coalition partner Komeito, whose lawmakers are more cautious on casinos because of ethical issues. The party said Wednesday it has yet to make a decision on whether to support the bill. The session was boycotted by opposition lawmakers opposed to the legislation.

Hiroyuki Hosoda, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's general council and head of a crossparty group of pro-casino lawmakers, told parliament that the building of integrated casino resorts would help stimulate regional economies through tourism. "It's fundamental that the profits from casino facilities are returned to society," he said.

While betting on horse, boat and bicycle races is allowed in Japan, casinos remain banned. International gaming companies have been mulling billions of dollars in investment as Tokyo gears to host the 2020 Olympic Games, promising to increase the number of tourists coming to the country. Japan has potential to transform into one of the biggest Asian gambling hubs with annual casino revenue of as much as $40 billion, according to CLSA.

"Everybody is looking at Japan," Lawrence Ho, chief executive officer of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., said in an interview in Macau on Tuesday. "The Japan legislation seems like it's finally going forward. I personally have been lobbying it for many, many years. We would be extremely interested and will definitely participate in it, if we are lucky to."

The crossparty group had submitted a bill to the parliament in April 2015, but other legislation was given priority and discussion was postponed. The focus now will be on whether the bill passes before the current parliament session ends on Dec. 14. Should the legislation pass, a further bill setting rules for operating resorts would have to be approved before any building could start.

The Kyodo news wire reported Tuesday that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will look to pass the bill in a lower house plenary session on Dec. 6. It would then go to the upper chamber. The legislation stipulates the government's ethical obligations, and requires the government to set out policies such as the management of entry for Japanese people.

More than 5 million Japanese, about 5 percent of the population, are addicted to gambling, the Asahi newspaper reported in August 2014, citing a study by a health ministry panel. About 8.7 percent of adult male Japanese are habitual gamblers, along with 1.8 percent of females, according to the study.


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