Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delayed casino plans

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Japan casino legislation has been delayed several times, and may not see 2014 passage at all. (Image: EPA)

Japan casino legislation, which has already seen several delays, will once again be pushed back, further putting into doubt the plan to have casino gambling in the country up and running in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Lawmakers in favor of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to legalize casino gambling in the country had hoped to start debate on the subject in October, but that was pushed back to November, putting passage for 2014 in jeopardy.

The current parliamentary session ends on November 30, and it will now be difficult to enact the law before then. If the bill would have to be delayed until 2015 instead, it would make it harder to get the first casinos opened in time for the 2020 Olympics, as that’s already a tough timeline to meet logistically.

Passage Problematic This Session

Even without the delay, some government officials were saying that it would be hard to get a bill passed in the current session.

“The hurdle is quite high for both lower and upper houses to enact [casino legislation] during the current session,” said Keiichi Ishii, the policy chief for Komeito, a party that is part of Abe’s coalition government.

It’s likely that other issues will come up in the Japanese parliament before casino gambling gets a hearing. There’s also some opposition expected from legislators who are worried about social issues such as gambling addiction, and even some who support the legislation may be less enthusiastic about voting for it given those concerns.

There’s also the fact that there are two bills that will need to be passed before cities and municipalities can start negotiating with casino firms over the possibility of building such resorts. After the first bill is passed, a second law on implementation and regulation will need to be drafted and voted on. That bill, which is meant to address the concerns of some Komeito members, could be even harder to pass.

Foreign Firms Want In On Japanese Market

Regardless of when these bills are passed, however, there will likely be no shortage of suitors for casino licenses in Japan, which has been called the last great untapped market in the gaming industry. Both Caesars Entertainment and Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corporation are among a long list of international firms that have expressed interest in building in the country, with Adelson saying that his company could spend up to $5 billion on a Japanese casino.

“Caesars is certainly still interested in pursuing an IR (integrated resort) license in Japan even if the resort could not open in time for the Olympics,” Steven Tight, head of Caesars’ international development division, said to Reuters. “But the sooner the IR Promotion Bill is passed, the sooner Japan can realize the many benefits generated by an integrated resort.”

Tokyo is believed to be the primary target for developers interested in building in Japan. However, finding land to build there will be both difficult and expensive, and it is unclear just how much interest the city has in working on resort development while also planning the 2020 Olympics. A likely second target is Osaka, which has seemed more positive about bringing casinos to the city and would be an easier area in which to build.