Japan casino legalization bill delayed again in latest setback

TOKYO — Prospects for legalizing casino gambling in Japan suffered another blow on Monday as proponents said they would delay a bill allowing full-scale resorts as the ruling coalition remains divided on the controversial measure.

Pro-casino lawmakers had said last week they would resubmit a previously failed bill by Tuesday, the end of the fiscal year. But they backed away from that plan on Monday as efforts continued to get the backing of the junior partner in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition.

Abe has promoted casinos as part of his economic growth program. Companies such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Resorts International have been hoping Japan will unlock a casino market that brokerage CLSA estimated could generate annual revenue of $40 billion.

But many lawmakers, including some in Komeito, Abe’s coalition partner, oppose casino gambling out of concern over gambling addictions and other social ills.

“It’s vital to have all the parties in the integrated resort parliamentary league on the same page,” said Takeshi Iwaya, a senior member of the group from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

“I won’t comment on when we can submit the legislation, but we want to proceed promptly, as soon as the groundwork is done,” Iwaya told a news conference.

A person involved in the process said the bill would likely be submitted in early April and that proponents do not want to wait for weeks.

Komeito remains undecided. A party member in the casino lobby, Kiyohiko Toyama, said he hoped the coalition parties would continue to debate the measure at the senior level.

Hopes for the bill — which died in a previous session of parliament — have been slim, as strong opposition from some quarters and a press of priority legislation have made it look very unlikely to be enacted by the late June end of this session.

That would essentially dash proponents’ hopes for gambling resorts to be built in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

But another person involved in the process said he expects this session to be extended until August, allowing time for passage of the casino bill after Abe’s priority legislation, like security and defense measures, are out of the way.

In a last-ditch move to save the casino bill, proponents have been considering taking the obscure route of a parliamentary committee that handles matters like the removal of power poles.

Hiroyuki Hosoda, a senior LDP policymaker, said on Friday proponents were still considering which panel is best for the bill, considering the bottleneck of security legislation expected later in the year.

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