Back in 1998 when Tokyo was near bankruptcy, then-Gov Shintaro Ishihara had what seemed to him a luminous idea – a casino. Moneyed gamblers would pour in from all over the world, stimulating the local economy and filling government coffers. Gambling was illegal in Japan; the law would have to be changed; but that’s what government is for.
It didn’t work. The public opposed it – so strongly that the plan was finally scrapped in 2003.
An interesting comparison is Singapore. When that city-state hit financial shoals in the 1980s, leaders there, too, thought of casinos. There, too, was opposition, but it was weathered at last and in 2010 two casinos opened. When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured one in 2014, he saw in it just what Japan needs to pull it out of its financial doldrums. Armed with robust majorities in both houses of the Diet, his Liberal Democratic Party rammed new legislation through opposition objections after barely six hours of debate.
Casino gambling is now legal in Japan. Casinos will follow. What will they bring?
Nothing good, Josei Seven (Feb 9) fears, and plenty of bad: gambling addiction, organized crime, prostitution, indebtedness, and deterioration of law and order.
Even supporters of casinos, the magazine says, were appalled at how little debate preceded the enabling legislation. You’d think it was an open and shut case – but even from the strictly economic point of view, says Shizuoka University sociologist Yoichi Torihata, the idea was oversold. “The U.S. casino market is saturated, and revenue is falling off in Macao and Singapore.” Clearly it’s no panacea.
South Korea, says Josei Seven, is a cautionary tale. Of 17 legal casinos nationwide, only one, Kangwonland about 200 km from Seoul, is open to South Koreans; the others are exclusively for foreigners. Kangwonland seems to have spawned the term “casino homeless.” Having gambled themselves into poverty, victims find themselves stranded in skid row hotels or reduced to sleeping in saunas and suchlike facilities. Cars circulate through town with a message written on them: “Dad, don’t commit suicide!”
Japan’s vulnerability to this sort of thing is plain even pre-casino. Horse racing, bicycle racing and lotteries are legal, as is pachinko, though technically not classified as gambling. As of 2013 – a year before Abe’s Singapore visit – the health ministry estimated 5.36 million suspected gambling addicts in Japan – “top,” says Josei Seven, “in the developed world.”
“The rush you get from gambling, says psychologist Tomomi Katada, “is like sexual pleasure. It’s irresistible. You know you shouldn’t do it but can’t help yourself.”
Not everyone who gambles is an addict, of course, but if addicts number in the millions years before the sod is turned for the nation’s first casino, it’s hard not to fear a proliferation of them once they’re in operation. Particularly susceptible, says Josei Seven, are women and the poor – the former because they have so much more stress to escape from than men (the dual responsibility of work and home, professional glass ceilings, and so on); the latter because the windfall that will lift them out of poverty seems so close, so close, a mere flick of the cards or turn of the wheel away).
Casinos as envisaged are to be embedded in “integrated resorts” – of which, Abe has repeatedly stressed, they will occupy a mere 3% of floor space, the rest being given over to theme parks, restaurants, shopping malls and so on. So what’s the problem? he seems to be asking. Josei Seven has an answer for him. The family-friendly environment is itself part of the problem. The whole family goes together. Mom shops, dad gambles, the kids head off to the amusement park. At dinnertime they meet at a restaurant and talk over their day. Dad is flush from the excitement of gambling. The kids pick up on it, grow curious, become gamblers in embryo, then gamblers for real.
Is this really, the magazine is asking, the best way to stoke Japan’s economy?© Japan Today