Japan was recently rocked by a massive bribery scandal involving lawmakers, tainting government plans to launch the country’s first integrated resorts in the next three years. As a result, legislators who were not in favor of legalizing casino gambling are now pushing to have the gambling bill revoked in light of the casino bribery scandal.
Lawmakers Suspected of Receiving Bribes
On December 25, 2019, lower house representative Tsukasa Akimoto was arrested for allegedly accepting bribes from a Chinese company interested in opening a casino in Japan. Akimoto is a casino advocate and was the head of a Cabinet office in charge of policies and transactions in relation to integrated resort businesses. Akimoto was accused of receiving ¥3.7 million in bribes from Chinese firm 500.com Ltd in September 2017, which the politician allegedly used for his election campaign.
The lawmaker was allegedly paid the huge sum which came in the form of travel allowances and speaking compensation. Prosecutors suspect the Chinese company bribed Akimoto to get an unfair advantage when it finally operates its first casino in the country. Akimoto resigned from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) following his arrest, but it remains to be seen whether he would ultimately step down as member of the House of Representatives.
Apart from Akimoto, five other lawmakers were implicated in the scandal, with Mikio Shimoji becoming the first politician to admit that he did accept money from 500.com. Shimoji was expelled from his party – the opposition Nippon Ishin – after the scandal was exposed. Hiroyuki Nakamura, Toshimitsu Funahashi, Takeshi Iwaya, Masahisa Miyazaki, all of whom are members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, are also accused of receiving bribes from the same company.
Impact on Casino Initiative
The ruling government passed the integrated resorts promotion law in 2016, with the aim of countering a drop in economic activity which host countries usually experience after the Olympics. The legalization of casino gambling in Japan would offer a new source of revenue for the country, therefore boosting its economy.
When the law was passed, it received widespread criticism from the public and the opposition party Komeito, with many expressing concerns over gambling addiction, an increase in organized crime, and other potential risks associated with the operation of casinos. Taking this into account, the government eventually decided to limit the number of casino licenses to be initially granted to just three.
The high-profile bribery scandal could have a negative impact to the government’s casino initiative, as opposition parties are expected to come up with new bill to revoke the gaming law.
Casino Regulatory Commission Formed
Amid the ongoing bribery scandal, a commission tasked to supervise integrated resorts was created last week. Members of the Casino Regulatory Commission gathered for their first meeting on 10 Jan, during which they held discussions on its rules and regulations.
The former chief of the Fukuoka High Public Prosecutor’s Office Michio Kitamura was appointed head of the new regulatory body and he will work hand in hand with members and staff to establish public trust in Japan’s casino business.
At a news conference after their meeting on Jan 10, Kitamura said they will urgently address any public concerns relating to casinos. He also expressed his intention to supervise their staff so as to ensure “fairness and neutrality” in fulfilling their tasks and responsibilities.
The Casino Regulatory Commission will run with independent authority over integrated resorts. It will have the power to issue licenses, or revoke them in the event of violations and irregularities. A total of 95 staff currently comprise the secretariat, and that number is expected to be increased in the 2020 financial year, beginning April 1.
The Commission will also work on formulating regulations, as well as gambling addiction measures. They are expected to be put together by spring next year. This month, the government is set to release the criteria for the selection of areas where the integrated resorts will be built.
It’s still unclear how the recent bribery scandal would affect Japanese politics in 2020. However, latest reports say a lot of politicians believe Prime Minister Abe will not hold a snap election until the end of two huge sporting events in the country, the Paralympics or Olympics. But some also think the Prime Minister could actually conduct the election as early as possible to silence criticism arising from the scandal.
Meanwhile, Akimoto will be served with another arrest warrant over the scandal. It will point to new bribery allegations not detailed in his first warrant.

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