Japan PM Rejects Opposition Demand For Casino Lobbying Probe
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not yielded to the pressure being imposed by legislators from the opposition who want an investigation to be carried out over the lobbying activities of gambling firms in pursuit of casino licenses; opposition legislators feel that some key public officials may have been compromised by the gambling firms’ aggressive moves to gain an advantage in the forthcoming integrated resort (IR) licensing process in the country.
A number of allegations have been made against prominent Japanese politicians in recent months, which are being tackled by the country’s public prosecutions bureau. Most notable among those ensnared is Tsukasa Akimoto, legislator and formerly of the Liberal Democratic Party; he was also a Cabinet Office state minister, a group responsible for IR policies. Akimoto was arrested last December on suspicions that he had received bribes from 500.com Ltd, a Chinese sports betting firm.
Abe reiterated at a plenary session of the House of Representatives last week that the administration will continue to hunt for IR opportunities in Japan, as a way of boosting tourism to Japan. There will be three slots for IR operators during the initial stage of liberalization.
During a budget committee session this week in the lower house, opposition legislators questioned Abe’s dogged pursuit of the IR industry. One legislator, Kenji Eda, reportedly asked Abe whether Donald Trump, President of the United States, lobbied for US casino operators to obtain Japanese licenses.
Abe supposedly admitted that Trump’s visit to Japan in 2017 featured a meeting involving a contingent of US casino representatives, but vehemently denied that Trump lobbied for any of them in their hopes of entering the Japanese IR market.
Gambling Firms Undeterred
A number of US gambling firms have shown keen interest in entering the lucrative Japanese IR industry. Three of these firms are big players in the industry and they are Wynn Resorts Ltd, MGM Resorts International and Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Other American gambling firms reported to be interest include Hard Rock International and Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment.
The ongoing bribery allegations have not dampened the enthusiasm for gambling firms seeking to operate IRs in Japan. Representatives of Marina Bay Sands Pte Ltd, Wynn Resorts Development LLC and Galaxy Entertainment Japan have stated that investigating such allegations is government’s job and that they will focus only on preparing their proposal when the time comes. Another potential IR operator, Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd, has been reported as cooperating with Japanese authorities in their investigation.