Plan Clashes with Health-Oriented Philosophy of Upcoming Expo

Casinos operate with the money lost by customers whose passion for gambling is aroused. One must have serious doubts about whether a growth strategy that relies on gambling is really appropriate.

Casinos operate with the money lost by customers whose passion for gambling is aroused. One must have serious doubts about whether a growth strategy that relies on gambling is really appropriate.

Osaka Prefecture’s plan to develop an integrated resort that will include a casino has been approved by the central government — a first for Japan. The operator will build a casino, hotel, international conference hall and other facilities on Yumeshima, a man-made island in Osaka City, with the aim of opening it in 2029.

The approval had been on thin ice, as the project received only slightly more than the minimum of 600 points required to pass a 1,000-point screening conducted by a panel of experts. The panel noted a lack of supporting evidence for the assumption that the casino will attract 20 million visitors annually, 30% of whom will come from abroad.

There are already many casinos overseas. Online casino users have also increased due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even if a casino were to be built in Osaka City, it is unclear to what extent the casino would be able to serve as a catalyst to increase the number of visitors to Japan.

In approving the plan, the central government set seven conditions, including measures against gambling addiction and land subsidence on the man-made island. The multiple conditions imposed by the government mean that many problems remain to be addressed. Is it really appropriate to proceed with the opening of a casino laden with so many concerns?

Many Japanese have become so enthralled by casinos in places such as Las Vegas in the United States that they have ended up suffering huge losses. There is also fear that the casino could lead to an increase in the number of people with multiple debts and others in dire straits, giving malicious moneylenders and others an opening to take advantage of their distress.

According to the plan, a ¥6,000 admission fee will be imposed on Japanese visitors, and admission will be limited to three visits a week and 10 times a month to keep people from spending most of their time there. Can this be called an effective measure against gambling addiction? In the first place, anyone who visits a casino 10 times a month must already be in a state that makes one suspect the danger of addiction.

The idea of inviting an integrated resort to Osaka City was proposed in 2009 by then Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto, with the expectation of attracting affluent people from abroad and leading to economic growth in the region. The central government has also been pushing for the establishment of integrated resorts as part of its growth strategy and has developed a law that allows for the establishment of up to three such resorts in the nation.

However, the coronavirus pandemic and revelations of corruption cases involving such resorts dampened the momentum for the establishment of casinos. Yokohama and Wakayama Prefecture have withdrawn their plans to invite casinos, and Nagasaki Prefecture’s plan has now been put on hold for continued screening. As there is no prospect of filling the three slots, the project has not advanced as the central government expected.

Even in Osaka Prefecture, where the regional political party Osaka Ishin, which has promoted the integrated resort plan, won a landslide victory in the latest unified local elections, there are arguments among residents for and against the plan. The central government should not go ahead with procedures for granting casino licenses without sufficient public acceptance of the plan.

The Osaka-Kansai Expo will be held in 2025, next to the planned resort site on Yumeshima. A casino would not be in keeping with the Expo’s philosophy of health and longevity.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 26, 2023)