The issue has sparked heated debate among opponents of casino, who see it as risking exacerbating the country’s already large gambling addiction problems.
The Japanese government announced on Friday that it had approved a controversial plan to build the country’s first casino, which will open in Osaka (west) in 2029, with the aim of attracting tourists after years of disputes.
Local officials in Osaka and Nagasaki (southwest) were seeking approval to build integrated resorts, including gambling casinos, conference centers, hotels, restaurants, theaters and other places for entertainment.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that the Osaka project, Japan’s third-largest city in terms of population, “will contribute to the development of the region (…) to the growth of Japan and will become a tourism base to convey Japan’s image to all parts of the world.”
The archipelago was for a long time the only industrialized country to ban casinos. But in 2016 it adopted a law paving the way for the legalization of the industry.
But the issue has sparked heated debate among opponents of casino, who say it risks exacerbating the country’s already large gambling addiction problems.
A group for gambling addicts said it was “very concerned” by the government’s decision. “We are receiving an increasing number of calls to help young people addicted to other forms of official gambling (…) and illegal online casinos,” she said in a statement.
And government figures revealed in 2021 that 2.8 million people (2.2 percent of the population) are addicted to gambling games such as “pachinko”, a type of vertical billiards in which metal balls are used, and pachislow (slot machine), which generate revenues of 14, 6 trillion yen (99.7 billion euros) every year.
Some 7,600 centers offer these games in Japan, generally located near train stations, and exploit legal loopholes to allow money to be exchanged for gaming coins.
Japan also has a market worth tens of billions of yen for government-supervised horse, motorcycle, boat and bicycle races, as well as soccer betting and lotteries.
The government said that any gambling complex wishing to obtain a licence, would have to submit plans to prevent gambling addiction.
Osaka estimates the value of the economic impact of its complex at 1,140 billion yen (7.8 billion euros) annually, in addition to creating 15,000 jobs.
The complex itself expects to receive about twenty million visitors annually from Japan and abroad, and that its annual sales will reach 520 billion yen, of which 80 percent will come from casinos.