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Japan's Diet to pass casino bill on Friday amid addiction fears

The National Diet Building is seen in Tokyo in this Sept. 28, 2017 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A contentious bill authorizing the opening of casinos in Japan is set to clear parliament on Friday despite public concerns about gambling addiction and increased crime.

Opposition lawmakers have spoken against permitting casino operations in Japan, but a panel of the upper house, dominated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party, approved the bill by a majority vote on Thursday.

The passage of the bill will allow the establishment of casino venues, which are currently banned under criminal law, in up to three locations across the country.

They will be built as part of so-called "integrated resorts" that also include hotels, conference rooms and shopping malls.

In a last ditch effort to block the passage of the bill, the main opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, submitted a no-confidence motion against House of Councillors President Chuichi Date on Thursday, but it was voted down.

Before the Diet session closes on Sunday, the bill is set to be endorsed by the Liberal Democratic Party led by Abe, its junior coalition partner Komeito party and the opposition Japan Innovation Party.

Abe's government believes casinos can help attract more foreign visitors and boost regional economies, outside Tokyo.

The government will collect 30 percent of the revenue as tax and share the money with the city hosting the integrated resort.

But a Kyodo News poll conducted last month found that nearly 70 percent of those surveyed did not want the bill passed in the current Diet session.

Although a law allowing integrated resorts to be opened took effect in 2016, additional legislative steps on their actual operation were needed.

As it is expected to take a few year after the implementation of the law for the central government to select the locations, the first integrated resort facility will likely open in the mid-2020s.

Hokkaido, Nagasaki, Osaka and Wakayama prefectures have already expressed their willingness to host casinos.

In an attempt to ensure the enactment of the bill, the government and the ruling coalition extended the period of the parliament session, which was originally scheduled to close on June 20.

Under the bill, people living in Japan will be charged a 6,000 yen ($53) entrance fee for the casino facilities, while foreign visitors can enter free of charge.

As part of efforts to alleviate addiction fears, the bill restricts local people from entering those places more than three times per week and 10 times per month by using government-issued My Number identity cards, embedded with an IC chip.

But opposition lawmakers and critics have argued debates over countermeasures against addiction were insufficient.

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