UPDATE 1-Tokyo governor says casinos not top priority, urges debate

Fri Jun 6, 2014 2:07am EDT

* Masuzoe cites money landering as a concern

* Cautious approach contrasts with Osaka's pro-casino stance (Adds quotes, details and background)

TOKYO, June 6 (Reuters) - Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe on Friday said developing a casino was not a priority for the city and urged more debate about potential problems like money laundering that could arise should casinos be legalised in Japan.

The governor has said little about the issue and investors, lobbyists and global casino operators have been waiting for him to clarify his stance, as Japanese lawmakers prepare to consider a bill to open up the country to casino gambling.

"This is not at the top of my agenda. I don't believe that you must have casinos to improve the economy," Masuzoe said at a press briefing in response to a question about his view on developing an integrated resort in Tokyo.

"There hasn't been enough debate, including about money laundering and other things."

Masuzoe's cautious stance is in contrast to officials in the western city of Osaka who have been openly lobbying to host a casino resort and aggressively courting operators.

Global companies including Las Vegas Sands Corp and Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd are vying to win the first licences to operate casinos in Japan, a market brokerage CLSA estimates could generate annual revenue of $40 billion.

Pro-casino lawmakers are aiming to kick off debate about a casino bill in the lower house of parliament next week, and seek its passage in an extraordinary session in the fall.

If that bill passes, debate will move to a second bill concerning concrete regulations, which proponents hope to pass next year. (Reporting by Emi Emoto, writing by Nathan Layne; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Stephen Coates)

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