Concerns about rising addiction figures
Japan has eased up on its opposition to gambling expansion in recent years. The state legalized commercial casinos in 2016 and resort casinos in 2018. The three available resort casino licenses have yet to be given to any regions or cities. These will be massive projects, with investment in just one of the potential sites – Yokohama – likely to be near the $12bn mark.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen on the resort casinos. They are seen as a way to significantly boost tourist numbers in addition to bringing in significant tax revenues.
Concerns abound, however, that they will lead to a sharp rise in the levels of gambling addiction. The possibility of delaying the issuance of resort casino licenses has been mooted. Any delay would be largely for political reasons as the public are generally not very supportive of casinos and there are elections on the horizon.
Japan already has a growing problem with the legal pachinko halls. There are currently more than 9,200 facilities in the country for this popular game. It is a mix between an arcade game and a slot machine.
It is a massive market, with more money generated by the pachinko market in Japan than the gambling revenues in Singapore, Macau and Las Vegas combined. The popularity of the pachinko halls is leading to rising addiction levels.
The authorities are exploring a wide variety of potential measures to curb the impact of the new resort casinos. One such decision is not to advertise them outside of Japan’s international airports and cruise ship terminals.
Scope for improvement
The regulator is under pressure to completely revamp the gambling framework in Japan and put better protections in place for problem gamblers. Some industry experts believe there is a lot of scope for improvement.
A new regulatory commission is being created, made up of five members. However, this will not happen until after the upcoming election. It means the resort licenses are unlikely to be issued until late 2020. This would be a setback, as plans were to have the first resort casino open by 2024. Now it might be the end of 2025 at the earliest before any of them open.
The three resort casinos could generate revenues each of $7bn annually, it is estimated. This means there could be a substantial funds to treat gambling addicts.
One of the suggested new protections for problem gamblers would be to introduce facial recognition technology at pachinko halls. This would prevent any gambler who is on a self-exclusion list from being able to enter.
The regulator has also discussed not allowing ATMs at casinos. New gambling addiction consultation offices could open in major cities across the country. And the government is planning a survey on the issues linked to gambling addiction, such as debt, suicide, poverty, abuse, and crime.
Schools will educate their students about the potential pitfalls of gambling and the National Police Agency will crack down heavily on illegal gambling operations.