Japan Set to Pass Bill to Legalize Casinos in Vote Wednesday

(Bloomberg) -- An upper house committee approved a bill late Tuesday that paves the way for the legalization of casinos in Japan, ending years of political wrangling and opening the potential for billions of dollars of investment.

The revised legislation is now expected to pass in a final vote in parliament Wednesday. Details of the so-called integrated resorts must then be laid out in a second piece of legislation before any casinos can be built -- meaning none are likely to open their doors in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

International gaming companies have been mulling investments in Japan amid a boom in tourism, particularly from China. Wynn Resorts Ltd, MGM Resorts International and Las Vegas Sands Corp. are among the operators that have expressed interest. Japan has the potential to become one of the biggest Asian gambling hubs, with annual casino revenue of as much as $40 billion, according to CLSA Ltd.

The main opposition Democratic Party have sought to stall the bill and some members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s junior coalition partner Komeito, which is backed by a Buddhist group, have been reluctant to accept legalization because of concerns over gambling addiction and money laundering. Abe himself visited casinos in Singapore in 2014 to promote the plan.

Japan already allows gambling on horse, boat and bicycle racing, while the pinball-like game of pachinko has spawned its own addicts. A survey published by public broadcaster NHK this week found only 12 percent of respondents were in favor of lifting the casino ban, with 44 percent opposed and the remainder unsure.

The bill was previously abandoned after being submitted to parliament in 2013 and debate was delayed after a second submission last year. It was rushed through this session after discussion was re-opened on Nov. 30.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi was quoted by Kyodo News as saying earlier this month many people felt the discussion period had been too short. With a majority in both houses, Abe’s main ruling Liberal Democratic Party no longer needs Komeito to help it pass legislation, although it does rely on its ally for electoral support.

Yokohama and Osaka have been touted as potential venues for the first casino resorts, while Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has not come out clearly in favor of a venue in the capital.