Opposition lawmakers converge on the chairman's seat at the Lower House Cabinet Committee on June 15 to protest the railroading of the casino bill. (Nobuo Fujiwara)
The ruling coalition rammed a bill through a Lower House committee June 15 to establish "integrated' resorts featuring casinos, turning a deaf ear to criticism that the proposed legislation does not address major issues related to gambling addiction and fair oversight.
Despite calls by opposition party lawmakers for continued deliberations, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and junior partner Komeito railroaded the bill through the Lower House Cabinet Committee. Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) also voted for the legislation.
The bill will likely be taken up by the entire Lower House on June 19 and then move to the Upper House.
But with the current Diet session scheduled to end June 20, the ruling coalition will have to seek an extension to pass the legislation in the Upper House and make it law.
This is the second time the ruling coalition has drawn fierce resistance from the opposition on the issue that is aimed at generating mountains of fresh revenue.
In December 2016, a bill to lift a longstanding ban on casinos was railroaded through the same Lower House Cabinet Committee and later passed through the entire chamber.
Although the opposition demanded at least 50 hours be set aside in the Cabinet Committee to deliberate the many concerns raised by the bill, deliberations were abruptly cut off after a little over 18 hours.
A myriad of problems still exist with the proposed legislation, critics say.
For one thing, casino operators will be allowed to provide loans to wealthy gamblers.
Although opposition lawmakers argued such a provision would only encourage gambling addiction and could exacerbate the problem of gamblers wallowing in debt, the government argued that only wealthy Japanese and foreign nationals would be eligible to use the loan system.
Japanese gamblers would be required to first make a hefty deposit with the casino to demonstrate they have the ability to carry loans to fund their habit.
Toru Mihara, a professor of comparative public policy at Osaka University of Commerce who served as a member of the government's expert panel on casinos, explained that in other nations, wealthy patrons did not arrive in casinos carrying huge wads of cash.
He asserted that Japanese casinos would not be able to attract VIPs unless the loan system was implemented.
However, the bill's provisions include no upper limits on how much casino operators can lend, leaving open the possibility that some of the wealthy gamblers could still end up with a mountain of gambling debt.
Questions were also raised by the opposition about a casino management committee that would be charged with overseeing casino operators.
Government officials have indicated it would be possible that individuals who work for casinos might be included in the committee because they would have the expertise needed to oversee casino operations. The officials brushed aside a suggestion by opposition lawmakers that rules be drawn up that mirror those used by the secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which prohibit employees from transferring to other organizations or companies that promote nuclear energy.
The government claimed the legislation had provisions to prevent gambling addiction, such as limiting the number of casino visits over a certain period as well as setting an entrance fee of 6,000 yen ($54). For example, over a seven-day period only three casino visits will be allowed, while only 10 would be permitted over a 28-day period.
Moreover, only three casinos at most will be allowed to be opened in Japan.
Still, the ruling coalition is pushing legislation that has not obtained popular support.
A national survey conducted by The Asahi Shimbun in April found that 71 percent of respondents felt there was no need to pass the casino bill in the current Diet session. Even among LDP supporters, 57 percent said there was no need to rush passage of the bill.
Moreover, while the Abe administration initially pushed the casino plan as a way of attracting more foreign tourists to Japan, various studies estimate that between 70 to 90 percent of the casino users will be Japanese.