(Corrects in penultimate paragraph possible date for passage of
second casino bill to 2015, not 2016)
By Nathan Layne
TOKYO, June 3 Japan's parliament will likely
start discussing next week a bill to legalise casino gambling
although proponents may hold off voting until the autumn in a
strategic move to prevent opponents from killing it, a key
supporter of the bill said on Tuesday.
Takeshi Iwaya, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic
Party (LDP) and a leading casino proponent, said he had some
success in recent weeks in garnering support for the bill from a
coalition partner and the main opposition party.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to two integrated resorts
in Singapore last week, where he said casinos could help to
revitalise the economy, also underlined growing support for
opening up the Japanese market, Iwaya said.
"We are getting close to starting debate," Iwaya told a
gathering of business executives, later telling Reuters that a
lower house committee could kick off debate next week. "It is
best to strike while the iron is hot."
With time running short, Iwaya acknowledged that lawmakers
may fail to achieve their original goal of getting the bill
passed by both chambers of parliament during the current session
ending on June 22.
As a fall-back strategy, Iwaya said proponents may look to
kick off debate in the lower house - where backing for the bill
is strong - but stop short of pushing for its passage during the
This manoeuvre would ensure that the bill remains in
discussion by the lower house and is carried over into an
expected extraordinary parliament session in the fall, allowing
proponents to "keep a grip" on the bill, Iwaya said.
The strategy reflects concerns that the bill could be
scrapped if it were rushed into the hands of the relevant upper
house committee, which is chaired by an opposition party member
who is not keen on bringing casinos to Japan, Iwaya said.
A group of more than 200 lawmakers promoting the bill had
originally hoped to start debate in late April or early May, but
it has taken a backseat to other legislation.
The delayed debate has raised concerns the bill may not be
adopted this year, which would make it difficult for developers
to build resorts in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Brokerage
CLSA estimates that Japan could become Asia's biggest gambling
market after Macau, raking in revenues of at least $40 billion
annually and with many more years of growth before it starts to
If the current bill passes, debate will move on to a second
bill concerning concrete regulations, which proponents hope can
be passed in 2015.
International casino companies including Las Vegas Sands
Corp, Genting Singapore PLC, MGM Resorts
International and Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd
have all been trying to position themselves in Japan
in anticipation of legalised casino gambling.
(Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Emi Emoto; Editing by
Edmund Klamann and David Evans)