Japan Opposition Leader Urges Public to Resist Integrated Resort Casinos

Posted on: October 28, 2020, 01:51h. 

Last updated on: October 28, 2020, 02:53h.

Japan Councilor Renho Saito, often simply referred to as just Renho, is calling on the public to oppose the legalization of commercial gambling.

Japan casino integrated resort IR
National Diet member Renho Saito wants Japan to reject casinos. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

A former leader of the opposition party in Japan’s National Diet, the powerful lawmaker says the central government should be ashamed that it’s turning to gambling to spur economic growth.

Are casinos really a pillar for growth? They make money from people gambling and losing,” Renho said in Yokohama this week. “It is an embarrassment that this is an element of the national government’s economic strategy.”

Her comments were first reported by Inside Asian Gaming. Then a member of Japan’s Democratic Party (DP), Renho was the leader of the opposition to the controlling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) between October 2016 and July 2017.

The Democratic Party dissolved in the run-up to the 2017 general election. Renho followed the center-left split of the DP into the new Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), which she remains a member of today.

Public Power

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is continuing his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s wishes to make the country a more leisure travel destination.

The liberalization of casinos was a component of “Abenomics,” economic policies led by Abe’s LDP. The three pillars of Abenomics are monetary easing from the Bank of Japan, fiscal stimulus through government spending, and structural reforms.

“Abenomics is a mix of reflation, government spending, and a growth strategy designed to jolt the economy out of the suspended animation that has gripped it for more than two decades,” wrote The Economist in 2013 when Abe’s master plan was first released.

Renho, however, says Japanese people do not need to go along with the central government’s casino endeavor.

One vote from a resident can stop the casino. Politicians are not the ones with the authority to decide. We all make that decision,” Renho stated.

However, that’s not technically true. Prefectures are free to submit integrated resort (IR) bids to the central government once the Diet releases its Basic Policy and initiates the request period. Earlier this month, Japan confirmed a delay to its IR time line because of the global impacts of COVID-19.

The original submission period was to run January 4, 2021, through July 30, 2021. The new deadline is April 28, 2022. No start date was announced.

Japan wants its casino resorts to be family-friendly destinations and tourism generators that do not elevate problem gambling rates among Japanese. Locals will need to pay an entrance fee and be limited to the number of times they can gamble each month. Foreigners will be granted free access.

The casino cannot exceed three percent of the resort’s total floor space.

Yokohama Mayor All Ears

Opposition is growing in Yokohama, one of the leading candidate cities for an IR. The port city just south of Tokyo has been targeted by Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts, though Sands unexpectedly withdrew from the Japan IR race in May. Wynn closed its Yokohama office in August.

Other casino giants, including Melco Resorts, Galaxy Entertainment, Hard Rock, and Genting remain interested in Yokohama.

An opposition effort in Yokohama is expected to force a ballot referendum asking voters whether they support bringing a casino resort to the Kanagawa Prefecture. Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi says if that happens, and the public opposes an IR, she will respect the opinion and fold on the city’s casino ambitions.