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Casinos in Japan at last?

The Bloomberg business news agency has reported an initiative by 150 Japanese legislators aimed at introducing land casinos to a nation hungry for some serious slot and table gambling action…and a government that needs funds following recent earthquake and tsunami catastrophes.

But don't hope for online provisions in the proposal; it is being vigorously pushed by Las Vegas gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, who just this week has voiced his personal opposition to internet gambling .

Adelson and his vast corporate Las Vegas Sands has been trying to get land gambling casinos into Japan for the past five years, according to the report, only to be thwarted by Japanese lawmakers arguing that there are dangers from organised crime and that casinos provide little public benefit.

This time around the prospects look better for the approval of strictly controlled hotel resorts with slot machines and gaming tables. The government needs the tax revenue, and there is pent up demand in one of the world's largest economies.

Analysts estimate that Japanese land casinos could generate as much as $44 billion (3.4 trillion yen) in time, providing a welcome source of tax revenues for a government facing a daunting 19 trillion yen reconstruction bill from the natural disasters that befell the nation earlier this year, exacerbating an already serious sovereign debt situation.

Strictly regulated land gambling could be an engine for fiscal revival and job creation that wouldn’t require raising taxes, Takeshi Iwaya, a member of the group of bi-partisan legislators from six parties, argued this week.

Issei Koga, who leads the group, says that he plans to introduce the bill during the Diet session that begins next month, because time has run out on advancing the proposal during the current session, which ends December 9.

Several other land gambling executives have voiced hopes for market liberalisation in Japan and possibly Taiwan, including Lawrence Ho of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. and Steven Tight, president for international development for Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp.

“There just seems to be a very strong affinity to that sort of entertainment,” said the latter.

MGM Resorts International (MGM) is reportedly also closely monitoring Japan’s moves toward casino legalisation, according to Ed Bowers, the company’s senior vice president for hospitality, whilst Nanami Kasasaki, Genting Singapore plc’s representative director for Japan, said her company is watching developments as well.

Supporters of the new legislative initiative point to Singapore as an example of how casinos can generate cash without attracting the crime that opponents of gambling fear.

The city-state will raise an estimated $1 billion in gambling taxes this year, and rival Macau off the Chinese mainland could pull in up to $13 billion in taxes this year from its 34 casinos.

The rewards from Japanese land casino operations could be very significant. Gambling genres already allowed in Japan, such as pachinko and betting on bicycle, motorboat, motorcycle and horse races, earned more than 25 trillion yen, or about $322 billion, last year, according to a 2011 White Paper on Leisure published by the nonprofit Japan Productivity Center.

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