Japan takes steps toward casino legalization


Japan has been debating legalizing casinos for a while, and this week, the lower house of the country’s Parliament’s passed a bill that could pave the way for the dream to become a reality and passed it along to the upper house. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is looking to enact the bill before the current parliament session ends next week.

The bill wouldn’t legalize casinos immediately, but it would be a step on the road toward legalization. Prime Minister Abe has sought legalization for the past four years as part of a plan to improve tourism. Abe plans to model Japan’s casinos on those in Singapore, where the venues anchor a multi-function resort area.

Global casino companies—including MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts—have had their eyes on Japan as a future development destination. The companies worked to gain support for legalization in hopes of developing the type of large-scale casino resorts in which they specialize. Hard Rock Cafe International is reportedly getting ready to make a “major investment” in Japan’s hospitality scene as well. 

Jan Jones Blackhurst, who heads government relations for Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment, said Japan has been on the company’s radar for more than a decade, and called the nation a “priority” for the company’s expansion plans. “We’re very encouraged with the progress,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “We think the legalization of [casino resorts] would be excellent for job creation and growth of tourism, and we would be very interested in being part of the process if it moves forward.” 

The appeal for casino development in Japan is obvious: The country reached 20 million foreign visitors for the first time this year, and casinos could both boost that number and lure international conferences. In addition, Tokyo is slated to host the 2020 Olympic games, and new development will be needed for the anticipated influx of visitors.