Japan, Looking for Money, Is Poised to Legalize Casino Gambling
TOKYO — Japan is set to deal itself into the multibillion-dollar casino industry.
Lawmakers in the country this week cleared the way for the removal of a longstanding prohibition against gambling on blackjack, roulette and other casino games. The legislation was passed by a crucial panel on Tuesday and was expected to be approved as early as Wednesday.
If enacted, as widely expected, it would complete an effort to make Japan attractive to gamblers. For years, Japanese businesses and the tax authorities have watched enviously as vast sums have poured into jurisdictions like Macau and Singapore, which have built sparkling casino resorts catering to international gamblers.
Japan is experiencing its own boom in Chinese tourism, and it sees casinos as an added way to cash in. Estimates of the potential size of the industry have ranged as high as $40 billion a year.
International casino operators see a chance to profit, too. The last time Japanese legislators took up the issue, in 2014, Sheldon G. Adelson, the billionaire chief executive of Las Vegas Sands, said his company would be willing to invest as much as $10 billion to develop a casino resort in the country.
国际赌场运营者也看到了商机。日本立法者上次在2014年提出这项议案时，拉斯维加斯金沙集团(Las Vegas Sands)的首席执行官、亿万富翁谢尔登·G·埃德森(Sheldon G. Adelson)表示，他的公司愿意在该国投资高达100亿美元，开发一个赌场度假村。
“For the investment community, Japan is seen as the crown jewel of Asian gaming development outside of Macau,” said Grant Govertsen, a research analyst at Union Gaming, an investment bank focused on gambling.
“在投资界，日本被视为澳门之外亚洲博彩业发展皇冠上的明珠，” 联合博彩集团(Union Gaming)分析师格兰特· 戈弗森(Grant Govertsen)说。联合博彩集团是一家专做博彩业的投资银行。
The most recent major market in Asia to legalize casinos was Singapore, which approved the introduction of two casino hotels a decade ago. With casino revenue of about $3.5 billion last year, Singapore, a Southeast Asian city-state, ranks as the second-biggest market in Asia behind Macau.
The Japanese market, with its large and affluent local population, could be even bigger.
“It would be shocking if Japan doesn’t become the No. 2 market in Asia on an overnight basis” once big resorts open, Mr. Govertsen said, adding that the exact size of the market is difficult to gauge until regulatory elements, like the number and location of licenses, are known.
Uncertainties remain, even if the law passes. The first casinos would take years to license and build, and competition is already stiffening. Newer industry players like South Korea and the Philippines, chasing the same Chinese cash, are building big resorts of their own. China itself is under a cloud, as its breakneck pace of economic growth slows.
The scheduled vote comes as Japan looks for new sources of economic growth. Tourism is emerging as a newly powerful force in the country, where the economy has traditionally been geared more toward exporting cars and other manufactured goods than importing pleasure-seeking visitors. More than 20 million foreign tourists have made trips to Japan this year, triple the number from a decade ago, many from China’s swelling middle class.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes the boom will ignite broader economic growth and make up for dwindling competitiveness in other industries — some of which, like consumer electronics, are now dominated by China.
An end of the prohibition on casinos would not mean that anyone could build the next Caesars Palace in Japan. At first, licenses would be granted to two or three so-called integrated resorts — which combine casinos with hotels, conference halls and shopping centers — in major cities. Rules governing the bidding and licensing process, as well as the regulation of the casinos themselves, would be detailed in a separate law next year. Actual gambling is unlikely to begin before 2023, several analysts said.
赌场禁令的取消并不会意味着，任何人都能在日本修建下一个凯撒宫(Caesars Palace)。一开始只会在大城市批准两三个所谓的综合度假村——它们将赌场与酒店、会议厅和购物中心结合起来。竞标和审批过程的规则以及赌场本身的管理规定将于明年在另一部法律中详细说明。几位分析人士称， 2023年之前，赌场运营不大可能真正开始。
Takashi Kiso, chief executive of the International Casino Institute, a consultancy that has been advising would-be entrants into the Japanese market, said ownership would probably take the form of joint ventures between international gambling groups and Japanese companies. MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts and other large operators have also expressed interest, in addition to Las Vegas Sands.
国际博彩研究所(International Casino Institute)首席执行官木曾隆(Takashi Kiso)表示，赌场的所有权形式很可能会是国际博彩集团和日本公司组成的合资企业。该咨询公司已经在为打算进入日本市场的几家公司提供咨询。除了拉斯维加斯金沙集团，美高梅国际酒店集团(MGM Resorts)和永利度假村(Wynn Resorts)等大型博彩公司也表示有兴趣参与。
“Looking at the debate in Parliament, there’s a lot of resistance to the idea of 100 percent foreign-owned casinos, so that is probably off the table,” Mr. Kiso said.
Some forms of gambling are already legal in Japan. The country allows betting on horse, bicycle and boat racing, and it has a publicly run national lottery. Pachinko, a derivative of pinball played at thousands of noisy parlors around the country, has a gambling element that is technically illegal but is universally tolerated by politicians and law enforcement.
Japan has been debating whether to legalize casinos since at least 1999. A bill similar to the one passed on Wednesday made progress in Parliament two years ago but never made it to a vote. Some lawmakers balked at the potential social problems caused by casinos. Among those opposed was Komeito, a Buddhist political party that is a junior partner in the governing coalition.
Multiple opinion surveys have shown that more Japanese voters oppose legalizing casinos than support the idea.
Since 2014, Mr. Abe’s party, the Liberal Democrats, has strengthened its hold on Parliament. It is now less reliant on Komeito and has found a new ally on the casino issue in Nippon Ishin no Kai, a small, right-leaning party with a support base in the western city of Osaka. Nippon Ishin no Kai has been lobbying for one of the first casinos to be built there.
从2014年起，安倍的自民党(Liberal Democratic Party)加强了对国会的控制。它现在对公明党的依赖程度降低了，并在赌场问题上找到了一个新盟友——右倾的小党“日本维新会”(Nippon Ishin no Kai)，该党的大本营在西部城市大阪，曾经游说要将那里列为首批赌场的地点之一。