Posted on: June 3, 2022, 05:45h. 

Last updated on: June 3, 2022, 10:24h.

Japan will welcome integrated resorts (IR) into the country’s economy, but the buck stops there. Online casinos will remain off the table, at least for now.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He continues to campaign for land-based casinos in the country, but online casinos remain out of consideration. (Image: The Japan Times)

Nagasaki and Osaka are waiting to find out of their IR projects meet federal regulators’ expectations. They may know something within the next couple of months, but can feel confident they won’t have a lot of in-country competition.

In speaking at a Budget Committee meeting this past Wednesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made it clear that online casinos remain off the table. For him, and in accordance with Japanese law, they remain illegal.

Online Gambling Unwelcome in Japan

Kishida made his remarks in response to an inquiry on the topic by Issei Yamagishi, a legislator with the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP). The party has long opposed the attempt to legalize gambling in the country, and in 2019 and 2020, tried to stop the law that legalizes IRs.

Yamagishi pointed out that, according to data from Japan’s National Consumer Affairs Center, there has been an increase in the number of public inquiries about online casinos. In 2014, there were around 100, and this number increased to 500 in 2020.

The politician also stated that there are around two million people in Japan who use illegal online casinos. Around 3.29 million bet on keirin, a legal type of bicycle race. Another 5.06 million bet on legal horse races.

The Prime Minister emphasized that the government won’t tolerate any form of illegal gambling. He pointed out that the country’s law enforcement is already targeting online casinos. They have arrested operators and will continue to squeeze the illegal market.

Yamagishi tried to throw shade on the government’s IR plans, questioning its ability to combat potential gambling addiction. He also used the presence of illegal online casinos as an example of the government’s inability to properly control legalized gambling.

The attempts didn’t work, nor did they faze Kishida. He pointed out that IRs are much more than casinos. They will become “MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) and tourist centers,” as well. Even Las Vegas, the casino capital of the US, is reforming its landscape to target the same sectors. Regarding illegal online casinos, Kishida promised to crack down on the activity with the help of federal and local law enforcement.

Full Speed Ahead

It seems like nothing is going to derail Japan’s plans to introduce IRs, and anti-gambling political efforts apparently are wasting valuable resources. Instead, knowledgeable observers say they need to focus their efforts on ensuring the industry operates in a transparent and safe manner that offers consumer protections.

Nagasaki and Osaka were the only two locations, out of about half a dozen, to reach the finish line in the race to see who might be able to host an IR. They are both now waiting to determine if the federal government accepts their proposed projects. If so, one or both IRs could arrive within the next five to six years.

Osaka still has to deal with some local resistance to its plan before it can find approval. A citizen-led group is seeking a referendum. However, it won’t come easily. Previous attempts at blocking Osaka’s IR efforts failed, and this one will likely find the same result.