Bizcuits | Rolling, rolling, steamrolling

Leanda Lee

The power of political control has won over sensitivities as Japan takes its first steps towards legalising gaming.

The Japanese Diet, in an “extended, embittered session” to the early hours of 15th December, voted for enacting the private members’ gaming promotion bill after it had been debated in the Lower House Cabinet Committee late November.  It passed the Lower House Committee vote on Friday 2nd December before success in the plenary session on 6th December. The LDP managed to negotiate modifications, obtaining agreement from the DP to put the Bill to the vote last Thursday thus passing into law the IR Promotion Bill, something the LDP previously could not achieve without universal Komeito support. Such support is now merely preferable, as the LDP holds majority control of both the upper and lower houses.

Described as “a diabolic wager”, “divisive”, “rammed through”, the process of deliberation “hardly deemed fitting”, “a sign of arrogance”, “tantamount to staining the legislature’s own authority”, “lacking dignity” and something for the government to “stop and reconsider […] seriously”, the decision, as unpopular as it might seem at home, has investors, sell-side protagonists and foreign commentators excitedly taking up the theme and visualising a wind-fall (if not a bumper harvest) future.

MGM offered “sincere congratulations to the Diet on its tireless and successful effort in passing the IR Promotion bill” as it foretells of opportunities for growth in travel, tourism and jobs. The company highlighted its investment in Japanese artistic and cultural events both in the US and Japan to underpin its readiness to commit to Japan. Expect to see more such announcements of commitment, collaboration and relationship building by firms keen to partake of the Japanese gaming pie. Steve Wynn’s statement says it all: “To us, the opportunity is thoroughly Japanese and thoroughly delicious.”

The Global Times suggests that passing the Bill into law has ended 15 years of political debate. Certainly, it has taken a long time to bring the Bill to the vote, but far from being settled this is where the debate, activity and jostling really begins.

It was always going to be an unpopular decision with “exceptionally thin public support” (Financial Times). An NHK survey found that 44 percent of respondents were against the Bill, with only 12 percent supporting it. Kyodo news reported that support for Abe’s cabinet tumbled from 60.7 percent in November to 54.8 percent, in part due to the casino legalisation. In this two-day Kyodo survey, 69.6 percent were found opposed to the law, with 24.6 percent in support. Interestingly, 75.3 percent said they did not want a casino in their backyard. The major social concerns are for gambling addiction leading to crimes, suicide, juvenile delinquency and family collapse; the temporariness of the economic benefits; a decline in public safety; and risks of money laundering.

The next bet shall now be on for when the Implementation Bill is to be enacted, spurring a media and analyst industry of its own. So far we have 2017 as the “expected”, “most likely” time that the government “looks set to submit” the Bill to the Diet. However, with a public ingrained with a work ethic of productivity and contributing added value to the economy, it will take some lengths and concerted public-level ‘nemawashi’ for such a non-productive wealth-redistribution industry with uncertain and potentially unwholesome repercussions to sufficiently convince nay-sayers.

The main Opposition complaint has been that even after so many years, the process has been too hasty. This last month, we have not seen much of the often snail’s pace, deliberate, consultative and circumspect Japanese modus operandi for momentous decision making: political will pushed this forward. As the Promotion Bill requires the Implementation Bill to be enacted within 12 months, the slow and deliberate mode will have to make way for some very agile and expeditious public debate, research and discussion; a big change for Japan.

Categories Opinion