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Editorial: Rush to pass casino resort bill unacceptable

This is what's called running roughshod. A bill to create "integrated resorts" centered on casinos has been put to debate in the House of Councillors, and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was looking to pass it into law by the end of the week.

Though many legitimate concerns have been raised about legalizing casinos, the LDP pushed the bill through the House of Representatives with barely any debate. The upper house is supposed to function as a body to reconsider legislation afresh, and it would be simply unacceptable to create a precedent of cutting discussion in that chamber short as well.

The legislation is a private member's bill, meaning that in principle it should require the consensus of all the parliamentary groups to get passed. Nevertheless, the lower house Cabinet Committee spent all of six hours talking about it. What's more, much of the bill's content remains half-baked, including the complete lack of concrete provisions to deal with gambling addiction. When questioned about this, the bill's proponents have simply and repeatedly answered that the government will include such measures in an implementation bill after the casino resort legislation has already gone into effect.

The LDP member who stood to answer questions on the casino resort bill even claimed that there was "time left over" in the session and began speaking on a completely different topic. Astoundingly, the lawmaker went on to kill time reciting the Heart Sutra.

Likely what is behind the LDP's hurry to pass the bill is the will of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies at the prime minister's office. After inspecting a casino resort in Singapore, Abe commented that "integrated resorts can be growth strategy centerpieces" as they attract foreign tourists.

Indeed, business circles and a certain segment of regional Japan have high hopes for "integrated resorts" including casinos. Osaka -- both the city and the prefecture -- envisions a resort built on an artificial island in Osaka Bay. Yokohama and other cities are also looking to attract resorts.

However, it has been pointed out that such projects in other countries have failed due to intense foreign competition while others simply have worsening business performances, and incomes at similar resorts in Asia have been falling. Surely detailed analysis needs to be done to predict whether casino resorts in Japan would indeed attract foreign visitors. It would also be problematic to just shut our eyes to the potential negative side of casinos simply because other parts of the government's growth strategy have ground to a halt.

Other campaigns to open integrated resorts have acknowledged the negatives associated with casinos and sought to shift public opinion on the issue. The way the casino resort bill is being pushed forward is the exact opposite of this gradual approach.

While the LDP and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party, JIP) pushed the bill forward, the more cautious junior coalition partner Komeito decided to allow its lawmakers to vote independently, effectively allowing the legislation to pass the lower house. All the party's representatives from Osaka, where the JIP has tremendous electoral influence, voted in favor. Meanwhile, Komeito's upper house members have forgone the chance to ask questions about the bill. The party has, in effect, allowed itself to be taken advantage of in the legislative process.

The upper house Cabinet Committee responsible for substantive debate on the bill is headed by an opposition Democratic Party lawmaker. The LDP is apparently considering forcing the legislation's passage through a vote of the full upper chamber or by dismissing the committee chair before moving to have the body approve the bill.

It is perfectly natural that there should be people calling foul over the rush, even within the LDP upper house caucus. To avoid creating a seedbed for future problems, the upper house must discuss the casino resort bill thoroughly and fulfill its responsibilities.

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