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Japan mulls whether to allow poker at integrated resort casinos

In this Jan. 11, 2017 file photo, a customer plays roulette at the Hippodrome Casino in London. (Mainichi)

As Japan moves forward with its plan to open integrated resorts (IRs) including casinos, the question of whether to allow poker at the venues has emerged as a point of contention.

A panel of experts set up within the government announced an outline of government IR regulations on July 31, ahead of plans to submit a bill on casinos and other gambling facilities to the Diet in autumn. According to the outline, types of gambling that will be allowed at IRs will be limited to those that businesses can manage in a fair manner, can only be played within IRs and those in which participants can win or lose only by chance.

In line with this policy, roulette, blackjack and baccarat, among other games, would be allowed. Poker and gambling on mah-jongg and shogi, however, would be excluded from the types of gambling allowed at IRs if the rules were to be strictly enforced. The panel also intends to recommend that the government ban sports betting including bets on horse and bicycle races at the new IRs. Furthermore, bets on games customers play between themselves would be banned because it is difficult for casino operators to control such games and such betting could lead to criminal offenses.

However, poker, alongside roulette, is a typical game played at casinos. Masayoshi Oiwane, head of the Japan Casino School, said, "Poker allows gamblers to feel a sense of superiority by defeating others in a game of wits. Poker is popular worldwide and can attract numerous customers." Oiwane dismissed the argument that it is difficult for casino operators to manage poker games, saying, "In such games, it's clear who the winner or loser is and it's easy to control the flow of money."

Professional poker player Naoya Kihara, who became the first Japanese national to win the poker world championships, commented, "Many gamblers go to casinos for the sole purpose of playing poker. If an international competition were held at an IR in Japan, it would attract a large number of people from the world through a synergic effect with tourism."

Some members of the government panel insist that poker should be an exception to the regulations because it can attract many customers to IRs, according to sources close to the government. The executive branch of the government is poised to submit a bill on IRs to the Diet during an extraordinary session this coming autumn.

Meanwhile, a casino management committee that will be set up shortly as an affiliate of the Cabinet Office will determine the scope of games to be permitted at IRs. The government will hold hearings on the issue for local bodies and business operators at nine locations across the country, beginning on Aug. 17.

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