* Japan lawmaker says 50:50 chance casino bill will pass by
* Garnering support from opposition Democratic Party proving
* Dragging out debate would be missed opportunity for Japan
- MGM CEO
(Recasts, adding background on bill debate, comments from
lawmakers, MGM CEO)
TOKYO, May 15 Japan may not be able to pass a
bill in the current parliament session, which ends next month,
that would pave the way to legalising casino gambling, two
lawmakers said on Thursday.
Delaying the bill could thwart global casino operators'
ambitions to set up in one of the world's last untapped gaming
markets by 2020, when Tokyo is due to host the Olympic Games.
Japan could become the third largest gambling destination
after Macau and the United States, with annual revenue of over
$40 billion, according to broker CLSA, and global casino
executives have been visiting with increasing frequency,
promising to invest billions of dollars in resorts they say
would boost tourism and the economy.
Politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
and two smaller parties submitted a casino bill to parliament in
December, with an aim to start debate in April or May and secure
its passage by the end of the current session on June 22.
But Sakihito Ozawa, a casino proponent and a member of the
Japan Restoration Party, told a casino industry conference in
Tokyo that it was becoming increasingly difficult to get the
bill passed with only five weeks of the current session
"I'd say the chances are 50:50," Ozawa told Reuters on the
sidelines of the conference, which had been timed to coincide
with the possible passage of the bill.
Takeshi Iwaya, a veteran LDP lawmaker who has been working
to legalise casinos for more than a decade, told the conference
he was still aiming to start debate on the bill this month, but
acknowledged there were obstacles.
Iwaya said he had spoken with members of the New Komeito
party, a junior coalition partner, and would be explaining the
merits of casino resorts to the opposition Democratic Party next
week in hopes of garnering their support.
He said lawmakers were behind their envisioned schedule,
partly due to time spent on other legislation.
Passing the initial bill by next month is seen as crucial
for the first casino to open in time for the influx of visitors
for the Olympics. Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International
, said a prolonged debate would damage Japan's prospects.
"To have a goal of opening a Japan resort by 2020 is a
worthy, ambitious and achievable goal if there is proper focus,"
Murren told the conference. "If we are in debate for another
couple of years, who knows, and it would be a tremendous missed
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Chris Gallagher, Miral
Fahmy and Ian Geoghegan)