Japan casinos. Japanese parliament

The Japanese Diet began debating whether to legalize casino resorts this week. (Image: The Japan Times)

At times it has seemed inevitable. At others, delays threatened to put it off forever. But finally, it seems as though the Japanese parliament is taking up the issue of legalizing casino gambling in their country in earnest, as debate on the issue started earlier this week.

It’s a bit too late for any casino bill to pass into law during the current session of the Diet, or parliament. The legislation is only now being debated in the lower house, and with the end of the session coming on June 22, there’s simply not enough time for the bill to work its way through both houses for passage.

Debate Should Lay Foundation for Passage

But nonetheless, bringing the bill up for debate is a major step in the legislative process, and it’s likely that this will lead to the bill being taken up again in the autumn session.

“I want to pass it in the lower house at the beginning of the next session of parliament, then enact it without fail in the upper house,” said Liberal Democratic Party member Hiroyuki Hosoda, who leads the group looking to legalize casino resorts in Japan.

Japan is seen by many in the gaming industry as the one last major untapped market for casinos on Earth. There’s also an appetite for casinos among many in the nation, who see them as a potential method for boosting tourism. That, combined with the 2020 Summer Olympic Games to be hosted in Tokyo, could double the amount of tourism in the nation according to some officials.

The debate comes on the heels of a government report on economic growth that outlined both the benefits and potential pitfalls of casino gambling.

“We can expect a boost to tourism, the regions and to industry,” said a strategy document released on Monday. “But we need to consider measures to prevent crime, maintain public order, and the healthy education of the young as well as to prevent addiction.”

Now that a bill has been brought to the floor, there’s a good chance that it will ultimately pass. The coalition supporting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a majority in both houses of the Diet, and while not everyone is completely on board with gambling, supporters believe they’ll have to votes to move forward.

A Long-Awaited Debate

Gambling has long been a contentious issue in Japan, and a casino legalization movement has been brewing in the country for more than a decade now. The idea has been floated many times, but only truly found momentum in the last year or two with the idea of opening major resorts in time for the 2020 Olympics.

But while casinos might have momentum, there have still been stumbling blocks even in recent months. Originally, the Diet was expected to pass a casino licensing law during the current session, but a backlog of bills has kept the issue off the table. Some opponents also used delaying tactics, as they were certain the bill would pass if it ever came up for an open debate.

Such delays have frustrated casino executives around the world. Many feared that pushing the bill back another session might kill any momentum for casino legalization in Japan, though the current debate should ease those concerns.