experts are concerned about plans by major Las Vegas operators to set up in
When she she looks back on her
childhood, Noriko Tanaka isnt surprised she grew up to be a problem
gambler. Her grandfather spent every spare moment playing pachinko a
pinball-like game with payouts while her father bet regularly on bicycle
At home, they taught Tanaka how to stake money on card games
before she had reached her teens. It was that kind of household, although
no one drank alcohol, she said. Everyone lived for gambling.
She married an inveterate gambler, and by the time she was in her 30s
realised that the casual bets she once placed on motorboat races had become a
compulsion that had left her and her husband deep in debt.
As head of a
group campaigning to raise awareness of gambling addiction, Tanaka now faces a
battle on another front. Having lifted the ban on casinos in 2016 after 15
years of debate, Japans parliament recently passed a bill setting out how
they should be run, in response to claims that they will create a new
generation of problem gamblers.
Once described as the final
frontier for casinos, Japan has dropped its official resistance to their
legalisation amid evidence that it stands to gain billions of dollars in tax
revenue and could rival Las Vegas and Macau as a magnet for foreign tourists.
Industry analysts believe the move will create tens of thousands of
jobs and boost the economies of cities such as Osaka, the current favourite to
host the countrys first casino.
With its large middle-class and
growing popularity as a tourist destination, Japan has attracted the attention
of leading operators, including Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts, which have
suggested they are each prepared to invest $10bn (£7.6bn) in a proposed
casino project in Osaka.
Economists have estimated the casino industry
could bring in takings of ¥2tn to ¥3.7tn ($18bn to $34bn) a year, with
national and local governments helping themselves to a 30% tax on revenues.
The casinos, which will initially be built in three locations starting
sometime around 2022, will be part of integrated resorts that
include hotels, conference rooms, shops, restaurants and event spaces.
The government said it will take steps to deter organised crime, such
as running background checks on firms that apply for casino licences, with
fines of up to 500m yen for those who submit false applications.
critics said the new law has failed to address the problem of gambling
addiction. Last year a government survey found that an estimated 3.2 million
Japanese have at some time in their lives been hooked on pachinko, football
pools, lotteries and government-run races involving horses, bicycles,
speedboats and motorbikes.
Most are addicted to pachinko, in which
players get around strict gaming laws by exchanging prizes and tokens for cash
off the premises. While the sector has declined in recent years, its 4.3m
machines at 10,000 locations across the country together generate revenue of
more than ¥20tn a year. .
In an attempt to limit exposure to slot
machines and poker tables, Japanese citizens will be charged ¥6,000
admission to casinos, with visits restricted to three times a week or 10 times
a month. Admission will be free for foreign tourists.
the president of Osaka University of Commerce and an expert in the economics of
gambling, supports lifting the casino ban but describes measures outlined to
address addiction as meaningless.
The law calls on
the industry to cooperate to tackle addiction, but nowhere does it say how much
funding will be provided and how it will be spent. Unless these details are
worked out then these cant be described as measures to tackle
addiction, he said.
The Japanese public remains firmly against
casino legalisation. A recent poll by Kyodo news agency found that 65% opposed
it, with 26% in favour.
Tanaka, who hasnt gambled for 14 years,
believes the government should immediately make ¥5bn available to fund
services to address what she believes will be an inevitable rise in the number
There are very few specialists in gambling addiction
in Japan, and the number of self-help meetings here is a fraction of that in
the US, she said. The arrival of casinos will bring Japan to the
brink of an addiction crisis.