Japan Parliament OKs law to allow up to 3 casino resorts

TOKYO — Japan's parliament on Friday approved a contentious law allowing up to three casino resorts to open in this wealthy nation and possibly lure more foreign visitors.

The bill was approved and enacted into law at the upper house after bulldozing by the ruling bloc. The lower house passed it last month.

It adds rules of operation to a law on casino promotion passed in 2016. The enactment of the "integrated resorts" law means casinos can operate at resorts that include hotels, conference rooms and shopping malls in the mid-2020s.

Supporters say casinos can attract more and wealthier tourists. Opponents say Japan already has "pachinko" pinball parlors and wagering on horse, auto, bicycle and boat racing, and expanding legalized gambling would fuel organized crime and compound gambling addiction. Media surveys have showed a majority of Japanese oppose the plan. Projections by experts show casino visitors would be predominantly Japanese, rather than foreign tourists. Opposition lawmakers said the casino law would only allow foreign operators to make money off Japanese.

The approval Friday was delayed for hours by opposition parties' protests. Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano criticized the casino law and other policies of Abe's government, filibustering at an earlier lower house session for 2 hours and 43 minutes, the longest known since 1972. Edano condemned Abe for "prioritizing gambling (law)"over support for victims of recent deadly floods in western Japan.

The law will allow up to three casinos to operate but they are unlikely to open until the mid-2020s, after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Several cities, including Osaka and Wakayama in western Japan, Yokohama, a southern port city of Sasebo, and a few cities on the northern island of Hokkaido have expressed interests to bid for casino licenses. Host city and the central government split 30 percent of the casino revenue they collect as tax.

To address concerns about addiction, the law limits local residents to three casino visits per week and 10 per month. Admission will be free for foreigners but a set price for residents in Japan.

Gaming operators, including major U.S. players such as MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands Corp., have made proposals since last year.

MGM welcomed the passage of the law, saying in a statement that the development would push forward its effort, together with its Japanese business partners, to create a "uniquely Japanese, world-class integrated resort." The company, which set up a Japanese subsidiary in 2014 when Japan started discussing casinos, said it will launch an Osaka office in September.

Japan has a significantly high gambling addiction rate among advanced nations. A 2017 study by the health ministry found that about 3.2 million people, or about 3.6 percent of the adult population, were thought to be addicted to gambling, far higher than many other countries — 1.2 percent in France, 0.4 percent in Italy and 0.2 percent in Germany. Many experts and former addicts say pachinko was the main cause.

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