The Japanese National Diet on Friday approved a contentious law allowing up to three casino resorts to open in the wealthy nation and possibly lure more foreign visitors.
The bill was approved and enacted into law at the upper house after bulldozing by the ruling bloc. The lower house passed it last month.
It adds rules of operation to a law on casino promotion passed in 2016. The enactment of the “integrated resorts” law means that casinos could operate at resorts that include hotels, conference rooms and shopping malls by the mid-2020s. Supporters have said that casinos can attract more and wealthier tourists.
Opponents have said that Japan already has “pachinko” pinball parlors and wagering on horse, auto, bicycle and boat racing, and expanding legalized gambling would fuel organized crime and compound gambling addiction.
Media surveys have showed that a majority of respondents opposed the plan.
Projections by experts show that casino visitors would be predominantly Japanese, rather than foreign tourists.
The approval on Friday was delayed for hours by opposition parties’ protests.
Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano criticized the casino law and other policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, filibustering at an earlier lower house session for 2 hours and 43 minutes, the longest known filibuster since 1972.
Edano condemned Abe for “prioritizing gambling” over support for victims of recent deadly floods in western Japan.
The law allows up to three casinos to operate, but they are unlikely to open until the mid-2020s, after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Several cities, including Osaka and Wakayama in western Japan, Yokohama, the southern port city of Sasebo and a few cities on the northern island of Hokkaido, have expressed interest to bid for casino licenses.
Host city and the central government are to split 30 percent of the casino revenues that they collect as tax.
To address concerns about addiction, the law limits local residents to three casino visits per week and 10 per month. Admission is to be free for foreigners, but a set price for residents in Japan.
Gaming operators, including major US players such as MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands Corp, have made proposals since last year.
Japan has a high gambling addiction rate compared with other advanced nations.
A study last year by the health ministry found that about 3.2 million people, or about 3.6 percent of the adult population, were thought to be addicted to gambling, far higher than 1.2 percent in France, 0.4 percent in Italy and 0.2 percent in Germany.
Experts and former addicts said that pachinko was the main cause.
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