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Richard N. Velotta

Japan Could Be Next Asian Hotbed for Legalized Gaming

28 June 2005

SINGAPORE -- Where will be the next casino hotspot in Asia after Macau and Singapore?

An expert from Osaka University of Commerce says he'd bet on Japan.

Ichiro Tanioka, who has conducted a series of studies on behalf of Japan's Liberal Party, said the stage is set for the introduction of legalized gaming in Japan.

Tanioka said that there already is a proliferation of illegal gambling in Japan and that the number of pachinko and pachislo machines operating in Japan outnumbers slot machines worldwide.

He estimated there also to be 200,000 illegally run underground casino bars -- called "shantis" -- operating in Japan today generating more than $10 billion U.S. dollars revenue a year.

According to Tanioka's study, there were nearly 5 million pachinko-type machines operating in Japan, while traditional slots numbered 2.4 million worldwide. In addition, he said there already is legal wagering in Japan on horse, bicycle, boat and motorcycle racing.

Wagering on racing was legalized in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Japan. A national lottery was approved in 1948 and sports betting was permitted in 1998.

Tanioka's study indicated that the Japanese pubic is becoming more tolerant of gaming and that he expected licenses to be awarded initially in 10 locations.

Tanioka said a movement to investigate casino gambling in Japan began in 2000 and, after some delays, resurfaced again in 2002. Surveys conducted in 2002 indicated that the Japanese are receptive to opening the country to casino gaming, with 49.1 percent of the people surveyed either agreeing or conditionally agreeing that casinos should be allowed and 24.8 percent taking a neutral stance. Only 26.2 percent were against legalization.

He said local government leaders within the Japanese Liberal Party would make efforts to try to persuade opposition groups to change their minds, since there isn't enough support nationally to pass a law to allow casinos.

He said several questions remain, including who would own, finance and manage casinos, and when and where they would be built.