TOKYO, June 18 Japanese lawmakers backing a bill
to legalize casinos acknowledged on Wednesday that little had
been done to address gambling addiction associated with the
homegrown pachinko industry, highlighting one of the key
obstacles standing in the way of the bill's passage.
In the first day of debate in parliament, opposition
lawmakers grilled casino proponents about what steps would be
taken to avoid exacerbating social problems such as addiction,
personal bankruptcies and organized crime.
Opposition lawmakers pointed out that such problems are
already serious issues in Japan due largely to the pinball-like
game of pachinko, which is played by one in six Japanese and
generates $200 billion in gross wagers each year.
The government's failure to address problems associated with
gambling is expected to be one of the main talking points for
opposition lawmakers eager to derail a bill that could give
birth to the world's third-biggest gambling market after the
United States and Macau.
Global companies including Las Vegas Sands Corp,
Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd, Wynn Resorts Ltd
and MGM Resorts International are vying to win
the first licences to operate casinos in Japan, a market that
brokerage CLSA estimates could generate annual revenue of $40
"We strongly believe that not enough has been done in terms
of studying and addressing gambling addiction," Takeshi Iwaya, a
member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a key casino
proponent, told a lower house committee handling the bill.
Critics say the way pachinko is regulated - it is not
legally considered gambling and is overseen by the police as a
leisure activity - has led to a lack of awareness of related
Iwaya said the plan was to use some casino-generated
revenues to fund a system to deal with addiction problems, which
in addition to pachinko could stem from gambling on soccer and
horse, boat and cycle races run by the state.
Keiji Furuya, chairman of a national public safety
commission which has oversight over the police, told the lower
house committee that the police didn't have "an accurate grasp"
on the number of pachinko addicts in Japan.
Instead Furuya cited data from a non-profit organization
that had received requests for help with pachinko-related
gambling problems from a little over 2,300 people last year.
An official from the health ministry told the lower house
committee about a study it conducted in 2010 of 4,123
respondents in which 9.6 percent of males and 1.6 percent of
females were found to be gambling addicts.
While taken from a small sample, that compares with 1.4
percent in the United States and less than 1 percent in Britain,
the health ministry official said.
With no more time left for discussions in the current
session of parliament ending on June 22, the lower house
committee will carry the bill over into an extraordinary session
of parliament expected later in the year, lawmakers have said.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Matt Driskill)