Japan bets on gambling to revive flagging economy

15 Dec 16

Japanese lawmakers have lifted a longstanding ban on casinos, betting on the economic benefits of what is estimated to be a $40bn per year industry.


Macau casino

A Macau casino. The Japanese gambling market is expected by some to come second only to Macau, which brought in nearly $30bn in tax revenues for the Chinese government last year.


The country’s parliament passed a bill to legalise casinos in the early hours of this morning, paving the way for the development of “integrated resorts” – complexes including hotels, casinos and other entertainment.

For years, Japan has looked on as money has flooded in to nearby Singapore and the Chinese island of Macau, attracted by liberal gambling laws.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe has backed the plan for Japan, which has long prohibited casinos, to follow suit. He sees it as an opportunity to cash in on a tourism boom and boost the country’s ailing economy.

Despite the casino ban, gambling is also popular among the Japanese population. Markets in the forms of play that are allowed, such as betting on races or a pinball-type game known as Pachinko, are worth hundreds of billions a year.

Critics have warned that legalising casinos will exacerbate gambling addition in Japan and provide an outlet for organised crime syndicates to launder money. The debate has divided politicians for 15 years.

But amid a stubbornly flagging economy, a majority of the country’s lawmakers were swayed by the potential economic benefits of an industry that is widely expected to quickly make Japan one of the top gambling destinations in the world.

Some believe it could come to rival Macau, a special administrative region in China where gambling is permitted and currently the world’s biggest gambling market.

Last year, Macau pulled in $28.93bn in tax revenues from gambling – although that was a five-year low and marked a 34.4% decline on revenue netted in 2014.

The industry has been eager to tap into the potential of the Japanese market, especially because of its proximity to China. The global market’s big players, including Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts and Caesars, have all expressed an interest in doing business in Japan.

However while the legalisation bill has passed, further legislation will be needed to regulate Japan’s future casinos. As a result, it is expected to take a further six years before any casinos open. Tokyo, Yokohoma and Osaka are among the cities bidding to be chosen to host them when they do.

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