TOKYO, June 17 Japanese lawmakers said they will start long-awaited talks on Wednesday on a bill to legalise casino gambling, kicking off the process to create an industry that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called a highlight of his growth strategy.
Senior members of the lower house cabinet committee agreed on Tuesday to include casinos on the agenda for the following day's debate, several lawmakers said.
The bill's proponents have been keen to begin discussions before the June 22 end of the regular parliamentary session so they can carry the talks over into an extraordinary session later in the year when they hope to have it passed. Debate has been delayed by other legislation and political wrangling.
The bill sets the basic legal framework for allowing casinos. If it passes, debate will move to a second bill concerning concrete regulations, which proponents hope to pass next year and allow developers to start building resorts in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Abe said in late May that casino resorts, also called integrated resorts (IR), will be a key feature of his economic growth plan.
With views among politicians and the public still mixed, however, a draft of the government's growth strategy obtained by Reuters on Monday underscored a cautious outlook.
"Integrated resorts are expected to contribute to bolstering tourism, regional activity and industry, but they also require consideration of policy measures to prevent crime, maintain safety, ensure healthy development of youngsters and prevent addiction," the draft said.
"Therefore, the relevant ministries will continue deliberations taking into account the IR bill and national debate."
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 that brokerage CLSA estimates could generate annual revenue of $40 billion.
(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Matt Driskill)