Japan Opposition Parties Have Casinos in Cross Hairs, Bill to Repeal IR Act Underway

Posted on: January 9, 2020, 03:53h. 

Last updated on: January 9, 2020, 04:25h.

Japan’s opposition parties have said they will introduce a bill that seeks to repeal the Integrated Resorts Promotion Act (IRPA), the law passed in 2016 that paved the way for the legalization of casinos in the country.

Japan casinos
Opposition lawmakers rush the chairman of the Lower House Cabinet Committee, Daishiro Yamagiwa, in a bid to derail Japan’s casino bill on June 18, 2018.(Image: Mainichi)

The bill — which will be introduced on January 20, the first day of Japan’s legislative session — would effectively abolish casinos before a single stone has been laid.

Opposition lawmakers fought hard against IRPA and its successor, 2018’s Integrated Resorts Implementation Act (IRIA), which officially legalized casino gaming. A literal fight broke out on the floor of the Lower House a day before IRIA was passed.

On June 18, 2018, with just days left of the legislative session, anti-casino lawmakers rushed the chairman of the Lower House Cabinet Committee and tried to grab his microphone in a bid to sabotage the bill’s passage. Such dramatic scenes are extremely rare in Japan’s normally decorous parliament, known as the Diet.

Protests were in vain. Both Diet chambers were controlled by the pro-casino ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito Party, which forced the bill through. And both remain in control today, which means the new bill will be a heavy lift.

Kickback Scandal

But the opposition is hoping that a recent bribery scandal that has engulfed six pro-casino lawmakers will give them the momentum they need.

On Christmas Day, members of the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s special investigation squad arrested Tsukasa Akimoto, a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office and a key casino policymaker, as part of a corruption investigation.

Akimoto is accused of accepting bribes from Chinese online gaming and lottery company 500.com, which was involved in a bid to build a casino in Hokkaido until the province dropped out of the race late last year.

Since the arrest, a Japanese former consultant for 500.com has named five more lawmakers — including former defense minister Takeshi Iwaya — who, he claims, accepted kickbacks from the company for preferential treatment.

All deny the allegations, except for Nippon Ishin no Kai party Representative Mikio Shimoji, who admitted Monday that his office had received an illegal donation — around US$9,250 — from 500.com for his 2017 general election campaign.

Scepticism Widespread

The national government has shrugged off the scandal and is determined to press ahead with the integrated resorts process. On Monday, a casino control commission was officially established to oversee the licensing and regulation of casinos.

Casino liberalization has been a long-cherished goal of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and part of a wider bundle of economic growth strategies that have been collectively dubbed “Abeconics.”

But Japanese citizens largely share the skepticism of Japan’s opposition parties towards casinos. Polls have consistently shown the public is opposed to the establishment of integrated resorts by a 2 to 1 margin.

A September 2018 poll found that a staggering 94 percent of Yokohama citizens said they had “negative viewpoints” on allowing an integrated casino resort in their city.

Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told the Japan Times recently that “US casino operators will set up subsidiaries and operate them, and losses by Japanese gamblers will be channeled to the US.”

“This selling-off of the country is akin to treason,” he added.