Japan party breaks ranks to submit casino bill on own - sources

TOKYO, June 6 Thu Jun 6, 2013 10:48am EDT

TOKYO, June 6 (Reuters) - A small Japanese party plans to submit a bill legalising casinos to parliament on Friday, breaking ranks with a cross-party group that wants to delay such a move until after elections, sources familiar with the matter said.

The move by the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) threatens to complicate efforts by the cross-party lobby, which had set its timetable in part to avoid making the controversial issue of casinos a focal point ahead of upper house elections in July.

The JRP, which has 16 lawmakers in the 140-member lobby, is keen to take the initiative on the issue in the run-up to the election, according to one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the bill's submission.

No one at JRP's offices could be reached for comment.

Pro-casino Japanese lawmakers have been struggling to pass legislation for more than a decade, watching with envy as Singapore and other Asian countries made plans for multi-billion-dollar resorts to attract tourists and investment.

Hopes were lifted by the return to power in December of the business-friendly Liberal Democratic Party under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has indicated he is open to the idea of casino resorts as part of his strategy for driving economic growth.

Broker CLSA estimates Japan's gaming market could be worth$10 billion if two large integrated resorts were developed - bigger than gambling revenues in Singapore and Las Vegas.

Outspoken Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, co-leader of the JRP, has been vocal about wanting to develop casino resorts to help boost the economy of western Japan, and had in the past held out the option of the JRP submitting a bill on its own.

But the JRP participated in an April re-launching of the cross-party lobby, leading many to believe it would act in unison with the group.

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