Japan casino bill postponed

Efforts to lift the casino ban in Japan and make way for facilities to open ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have all but ended. According to local sources, Japanese lawmakers plan to indefinitely postpone the casino study bill as the government lacks the political leverage to pass the motion this year. Legislation was not voted on as expected during last Parliamentary session and will have to wait until at least next year before it can be considered. The delays are damaging to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has promoted casinos as part of his economic growth plan. Two high-ranking cabinet ministers also resigned recently, dealing a further blow to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Casino gaming is part of Abe’s plan to triple the number of tourists visiting Japan each year to more than 300 million by 2030. But the PM put the bill on the backseat last month as he called a snap election after Japan slipped back into recession during this year’s third quarter. Figures released by the cabinet office show the country’s economy is shrinking at an annual rate of 1.6pc and Japan now holds the largest debt-to-GDP ratio in the developed world. Lawmakers will attempt to carry the bill over to the next session starting in early 2015, but any hopes of a casino opening in time for the Olympics are over, indicated three people involved in the process. “If they can’t pass it now, I doubt whether they’ll ever be able to pass it,” said one of the sources. Toru Mihara, an initial author of the bill, added that if the bill were unable to pass this year, it would be a “total loss of face” for the Prime Minister and his cabinet. Opening a legal casino market in Japan has long been viewed as a lucrative opportunity, but this year was the closest it has ever been to passing, due to Abe’s support. The PM resumed leadership of the LDP at the end of 2012, bringing politically stability to the country and initiating the ‘Abenomics’ economic growth program to unburden Japan from mounting debt. But there are now mixed opinions as to whether the bill will event resurface next year as the national budget and defence policies will take precedence. Global gaming operators, who are prepared to invest up to $10bn in Japan, have waited patiently, scouted development sites and formed partnerships, are left wondering when and if the law will be enacted. “Time is of the essence. If we are in debate for another couple of years, who knows, and it would be a tremendous missed opportunity,” remarked Jim Murren, MGM Resorts Chairman & CEO. The bill has already been carried over from a previous session of Parliament, with members of the New Komeito junior coalition party halting its progress as they contemplate societal effects. Support from the coalition party is critical for the legislation, as although the LDP has full control of the Lower House, it does not have the majority on its own in the Upper House. While operators continue to view Japan as a significant opportunity, lost momentum will certainly cause hesitation. Leading equity broker and investment group in Asia, CLSA has estimated Japan’s casino market could be generating revenues in excess of $40bn per year once fully developed, a significant amount of taxable revenue state coffers continue to live without. Analysts foresee Japan becoming an overnight success, generating around $40bn in revenues a year, compared to $50bn in Macau. Despite an outright ban on casinos throughout the country, the popular Japanese pinball-slot machine type game Pachinko is a $234bn industry alone. A 2009 Osaka University study projected casinos could generate $44bn in annual revenue and grow substantially as the sector blossoms. But while Japan remains the only G8 country without casinos, surrounding markets are fighting for the rising middle-class tourist market in China. Gaming liberalisation and developments are coming to fruition in South Korea; the Philippines gaming market will continue to ramp up materially over the next few years; Australia and Russia are planning major developments; not to mention Macau, which is undergoing its next phase development of the Cotai Strip.

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