The Diet has passed into law a bill drafted and submitted by lawmakers to lift the ban on casino gambling and call on the government to promote integrated resorts featuring casinos.
There is strong public opposition to the legalization of casinos, which have long been prohibited as a form of illegal gambling under the criminal code.
It is extremely regrettable that proponents, mainly in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Nippon Ishin no Kai, hastily moved to enact the bill, overriding the opposition.
Only about 23 hours were spent to discuss the bill in Upper and Lower House sessions. Even this brief period of debate, however, cast light on a raft of problems that Japan needs to tackle in opening the door to casino gambling.
The new law requires the government to draft, in about a year after it takes effect, another law stipulating regulatory standards and necessary countermeasures.
That means the Diet has left the task of solving related problems entirely to the government.
Unless the government comes up with a convincing plan, no casino should be allowed to start operations in Japan.
The biggest concern is gambling addiction. Proponents repeatedly said at the Diet that addiction stems from existing forms of gambling, such as publicly operated horse and bicycle racing, as well as pachinko, a machine game popular in Japan. They also said they will urge the government to step up countermeasures when casinos are legalized.
Proponents also said part of the money to be collected from casino resort operators by the central and local governments will be used for measures to address the issue.
First and foremost, the government needs to map out a clearly defined policy about how to respond to the existing problem of gambling addiction.
It also has to figure out measures to curb damage from addiction to pachinko and public sports betting.
Addiction is a serious problem that can long haunt both the addicts and the people around them. But the government has taken few measures to tackle the problem.
Pachinko is classified as a non-gambling game even though players usually cash out the pachinko balls they earn. Flashy advertising about horse and boat racing events is common.
Japan’s unique gambling culture has made the government slow to respond to the problem, experts say.
What kind of logic will be used to authorize casinos, which, unlike public sports betting, will be operated by purely private businesses? Should pachinko be allowed to maintain its status as a de facto gambling game barely within the law?
These sticky problems also remain to be tackled.
Proponents have emphasized that casinos will give a boost to the tourism industry, especially economic effects through an increase in foreign visitors.
But there are already a legion of huge casino resorts in other parts of Asia. It is not clear whether Japan, a new player in the game, will emerge as a winner.
Some lawmakers proposed prohibiting Japanese from gambling at casinos. But proponents rejected the idea, saying that would curb growth in casino revenues and thereby reduce the money the central and local governments can collect.
It appears that supporters are banking on the money that Japanese lose in casinos as a funding source to promote economic growth.
The government should not hastily prepare a new legal framework to set detailed rules for casino gambling. It should work carefully and cautiously to figure out an effective cure for each of the problems.