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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Japan Gambling People Want Casinos

Could it be true? Is Japan ready to shed the serene image of peaceful tranquility in hot water spa contained within the serene sanctity of a remote and lonely village for the bone-rattling, money-making venture of casinos?

Japan? Money over tradition?

Say it ain't so!

With an eye towards the global community that will soon be invading its cement-lined shores, Japan is hoping to open up casino gambling in time for the 2020 Olympics.

As such, small cities, hot spring towns and villages and other tourist locales are trying to get hold of the coveted licenses.

Excluding it's lucrative sex trade market, Japan is largely untapped as a global gambling scene.

Even if we were to not think about all of the Japanese folk who would flock to the casinos, just think about how many Chinese would make the flight (this time legally in commercial jets, as opposed to fighter planes)!

In fact, with a host of casinos available for global consumption and a plethora of Chinese visitors, it might actually work in Japan's benefit when it comes to any sort of possible skirmish with China over the southern islands.

By that I mean: China might be less inclined to attack Japan-proper if a host of its peoples are shackled (metaphorically) to a bunch of slot machines (not hookers).

Casino experts predict that gambling casinos could bring in some $15-billion a year, which would make it the second-largest gambling destination after Macau… which if you didn't realize, is driven by Chinese 'investment'.

So… where might casinos be placed in Japan? Osaka and Tokyo are always in the mix, what with them being the two largest Japanese metropolises (metropoli?), but other less-likely destinations are hoping to alter their own dwindling economies.

Sasebo, which was once a thriving ship-building port in southern Japan, and the tourist port city of Otaru in Hokkaido are hoping that casinos will bring the tourist monies, add tax revenues and even cause an increase in local populations.  

"Hot springs, Japanese cuisine, Mt. Fuji and geisha—these traditional Japanese things alone are not enough," admits Morita Kanekiyo (surname first), a hotel executive who has proposed a pyramid-shaped casino in Atami, a hot springs town in central Japan.

"Japan's population is rapidly declining and, for tourist towns, getting foreigners to visit is extremely important."

Well… at least Morita-san has cleared up one of my concerns—it's not about replacing traditional Japanese traditions (a line I found at the Japanese Department of Redundancy Department), it's about providing supplementary entertainment… and perhaps even to draw people back to these traditions.In theory, of course.

Buddha only knows that people have been gambling for centuries, whether legally or not. The government might as well grab its percentage. 

Japanese lawmakers must submit a bill to legalize casinos by December 6, 2014 and then have real laws in place by sometime in 2015.

Will it pass, or will it fold? Well, because Prime Minister Abe Sinzo (surname first) and his Liberal Democratic Party are backing the move, there's a better than even chance the bill will pass.

What type of licensing will be offered? Well, it is PROPOSED that there be two types of licenses:
  1. for large integrated resorts run by global operators featuring convention and entertainment facilities in addition to expansive gambling floors, and;
  2. one for more compact gambling resorts in the countryside.
As mentioned, these licenses are limited - and thankfully not on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The plan (I should say, the "idea") is to provide a limited number of licenses, and prioritize casino locations based on the largest economic impact with the ability to attract overseas tourists (IE Chinese, but not limited to them of course).

To my eyes, we are looking at casinos placed close by to Chinese accessibility via airports. It might also behoove a passenger jet company to formulate plans to create junkets for Chinese tourists aboard a special airline and or hotels, including travel to tourist destinations… all designed to milk them honestly of their hard-earned yuan. 

And how about the economic positives?

If we were to forget about placing casinos solely in the larger Japanese cities, Japan need look no farther than the German spa town of Baden-Baden (been there - awesome!), which is acting as such for the Japanese hot spring towns of Atami in Shizuoka-ken and Naruto in Tokushima-ken.

Other bonuses include town revitalization. Whether its new construction or refurbishment of existing buildings and infrastructure, food and beverage consumption increases…

And… let's not forget my favorite positive: the chance to win your retirement package.

Now… what about the negatives from having casinos around?

Well… aside from the fact that I need to win a retirement package via gambling shows just how screwed I am (and I didn't even get a complimentary dinner!), there is an influx of traffic congestion on an already stuffed beyond capacity subway and road system in the larger cities.

And what about crime? We're talking about petty crime as well as organized crime.

There's also possible inflation… and I'm not even going to mention the fact that with a casino comes the prospect of gambling addiction whereby people gamble away their money and life - spiritual and physical.

As you know, after leaving the comfy confines of Tochigi-ken, Japan, I now live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  

Ontario has casinos. Many of them are on Native Canadian properties which we are all free to visit, but we do have some government-controlled ones that offer slot-machines but NOT card gambling, while others offer both. You can also partake in legal gambling of horse racing.

I enjoy the slots (add joke here)...  I once won over $400 on a $0.05 slot machine win… which, admittedly, does not quite make up for the hundreds more I have lost over the years.

On my first visit to Las Vegas (also known as Lost Wages), on my honeymoon back in 2001 (a spacey odyssey), I at least hit the jackpot many-a-time, coming out several thousand dollars ahead. Really.

In the Bahamas, I also won over $100 for six days, losing my initial stake of $50 only once (I had my own limit and I played within it). In fact… how do you think I bought the watch I have on? Yup… although I replaced the band with a cheap gold-colored band that immediately flaked to become silvery, the watch is original - purchased with my winnings back at Cable Beach when I traveled there with my friend Rob (the same one I mention here often) and stayed at my aunt's place.

Casinos… as long as you can control your own gambling bug—it's effing tough for me, and I think I'm a smart guy… but sometimes it's easy to get carried away— maybe Japan shouldn't go too crazy in opening up too many of them. Maybe just two or three?

Ah craps! Who am I kidding… we all know Japan will attempt to maximize its financial take on this.

Be careful.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks to Matthew for the heads up on this story!

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