Japan is the world's third-largest economy but one industry that has yet to contribute has been gaming. That's because it's currently not permitted. Casinos have been trying to set a foundation in Japan for more than 15 years, but the government hasn't let them through. That old-school mindset, though, could be on its way out as the country's leadership could be ready to make some changes.
The Liberal Democratic Party has made some changes in their brass and have promoted several key figures that are proponents of casinos. Toshihiro Nikai was promoted to secretary-general, Hiroyuki Hosoda is now General Council chairman and Toshimitsu Motegi was named the police chief. Prime Minister Sinzo Abe, is the head of the LDP and he has stated that he would like to bring casinos to Japan as it would power their tourism industry. Japan has often been viewed as a country that's closed off to foreigners and they are trying to spur some tourism to change that image.
If the laws were to change, early estimates suggest that Japan would quickly overtake Singapore as the top Asian gaming hub and would push the United States for the top spot as well. For the government, the numbers are quite clear. Studies have shown that there is a chance for Japan to be No. 2 in this market - only behind the United States - to the tune of a staggering $40 billion per year. For a country that's dealing with a lot of debt, that's a significant chunk of change.
In terms of who else benefits, there aren't many gaming companies in Japan right now, so the biggest corporate beneficiaries would be the giants like MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts. An earlier report suggested that Japan might be welcome to two big casino-resorts and two smaller casinos, but the latest rumblings are that there will simply be two big brands allowed to enter the market and no one else. For the locals, their gains would come from additional tourism and jobs. It would also be a boost for the construction industry, travel agencies and many in the service industry.
Prime Minister Abe is doing his best to loosen laws that typically keep visitors away from Japan. It's been a country that has been very protective of its culture, so they rarely look for foreign help. However, under Abe they've opened up a little bit. In 2012 about 8.4 million people visited Japan, but in 2015 the number was 19.7 million - more than double. The yen is also making a rebound, which has helped the cause.
The challenge is that the public isn't on board as of now. Recent studies have shown that citizens of Japan do indeed oppose casinos coming into the country, roughly by a 2-to-1 vote. Like many other places, Japanese citizens feel that factors like addiction could turn their country into a cesspool. Prime Minister Abe and the LDP are trying to change the way people look at gambling, and they would definitely have to account for addiction. The other issue is that the Japanese and Chinese have a running rivalry and the Chinese love to gamble while the Japanese are not as open to it, so they'll have to overcome that hurdle as well.
But the name of the game is money. Japan is a country with a lot of debt and casinos could help take on some of that burden. While the locals are opposed to the idea of casinos, it looks like Japan might be introducing them in the near future regardless of what the people think.