TOKYO, June 12 A Japanese opposition politician on Thursday submitted a set of demands to ruling party lawmakers who are proposing a bill to legalise casino gambling, pushing back much-awaited parliamentary debate to next Wednesday at the earliest.
The delay raises the risk of the bill failing to pass parliament this year, which would dampen the hopes of global casino firms keen to unlock a gaming market expected to be worth up to $40 billion a year in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Pro-casino lawmakers had aimed to begin debate in the lower house this week - before the end of the regular parliament session on June 22 - and carry the bill over into an expected session in the autumn when they would aim for its passage.
But Yosuke Kondo, a Democratic Party lawmaker, who is one of two senior directors in the lower house committee handling the bill, said he made demands to the ruling party that should be met before he will agree to allow debate to start.
Kondo said his demands were aimed at ensuring the bill receives sufficient discussion, such as requiring the chief cabinet secretary and other key officials to be made available for debate.
"This is a very important piece of legislation. It needs to be discussed thoroughly," Kondo, who as the leading opposition director in the cabinet committee can in principle block the debate of a bill, told Reuters in an interview.
Kondo left open the possibility that he would allow debate to start next Wednesday when the cabinet committee is due to meet again, just four days before the current session of parliament will close.
"It will be impossible to pass the bill this session," Kondo said, adding that he was not necessarily against the idea of allowing casinos in Japan and could see a chance of the bill passing in the autumn session.
The bill that has been submitted to parliament sets the basic legal framework for allowing casinos. If that bill passes, debate will move to a second bill concerning concrete regulations, which proponents hope to pass next year.
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. (Reporting by Nathan Layne and Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Robert Birsel)