“Building a casino will create employment for 10,000 people.”
These are the magic words that Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara hopes will win approval for his plan to develop casino facilities in Tokyo — even though gambling is currently illegal in Japan.
And it seems his hunch may be correct. In a stagnant economic climate, with unemployment topping 5 percent, people throughout Japan — from the general public to government officials — have been taking heed of the governor’s proposals.
The creation of casinos of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tourism Promotion Plan, aiming to attract more foreign tourists to Japan. At present, according to a 2001 white paper on tourism, 17 million Japanese went abroad in 2000, whereas just 4 million visitors came to these shores. Compared to cities like London and Paris — which each attract more than 10 million foreign tourists a year — Tokyo lures a paltry 2.7 million.
“We are planning to double that number within the next five years,” said a senior TMG official. “Casinos are only one part of our plan to promote Tokyo to the world. And building them will have a ripple effect on the economy, too, because it will stimulate not just the casinos but also surrounding facilities such as hotels and restaurants.”
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Online Casino Singapore Visitors Authority, the city’s casinos made total profits of $60 billion in 2001, yielding an estimated $3.9 billion in tax revenues. And compared to Europe, U.S. taxes on gambling are low. Casinos in Germany and Greece hand over some 80 percent of their profits to the state coffers.
What’s more, regulation would enable the government to mop up profits currently siphoned off by illegal gambling establishments. Such a move would “not only boost the economy, but also clear away the illegal casino parlors that are all over Japan,” said the Metropolitan official.
Certainly, the government would appear to be coming round to Ishihara’s idea. This year it allocated some 10 million yen for research into the economic benefits brought to those countries that have legalized gambling.
“This is exactly what Japan needs now,” says Tetsuro Murobushi, director of the independent gambling research body Japan Casino Academy. “The industry with the largest exports is neither cars nor medical products. It is international tourism. In 116 out of the 189 U.N. member-countries, gambling, as a key source of international tourism has been legalized.”
Japan’s law against gambling came into effect in 1908, forbidding the betting of money on any sort of game and also the selling and buying of lottery tickets.
A quick look around, however, suffices to show that numerous money-making games are conducted every day — the Takarakuji Lottery, keirin (bicycle racing), keiba (horse racing), auto racing, kyotei (boat racing) and toto (soccer lottery). All of these are publicly managed — and are permitted under special legal exemption that requires their profits to be used for public expenditures.
The Penal Code must be revised if casinos are ever to become a legal part of Japanese society, but in addition, some people are questioning whether the economic benefits of legal gambling are not outweighed by social concerns. One issue raised by those who would oppose the sanctioning of casinos is the spread of gambling addiction.
“Unlike alcoholics and drug addicts, whose bodies are directly affected, pathological gambling is difficult to spot because there is no physical evidence,” says psychiatrist Masando Iwasaki, a specialist in treating pathological gamblers. “Many people treat it lightly, thinking that the only problem is the financial issue, but it isn’t. This is a serious sickness that calls for proper treatment.”
An addiction to gambling was no light issue for Yumiko Takeda, who went through two divorces and 20 million yen in 10 years as an addict. “It was the high, as if I were on drugs,” says Takeda (not her real name), explaining what got her hooked. “I couldn’t stop. Before I knew it, I was in way over my head. I borrowed money from relatives and consumer finance companies, and when that wasn’t enough, I used what I had left — my body.”
Gambling dependency is a type of process addiction — as distinct from substance addiction — and similar conditions include spree-shopping, overworking and binge-eating. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Vol. IV, published in 1994 by the American Psychiatric Association, gambling dependency is defined as “a persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior that disrupts personal, family or vocational pursuits.” The manual also states that, in many cases, the parents of sufferers were also compulsive gamblers.
“My father was a pathological gambler who spent his life borrowing money from all of our relatives,” says Takeda. “I hated him for that, but I didn’t realize that I was repeating his actions. For me, gambling parlors were the only place I could run to.”
Fortunately for Takeda and many others, the self-support group Gamblers Anonymous Japan held its first meeting in 1989. It couldn’t have come soon enough: The head office in Los Angeles was founded in 1957.
“Compared to the U.S., Japan has fallen far behind,” says Iwasaki. “There aren’t enough specialists in this field, nor is enough information available. My office is in Fujisawa Prefecture, but I receive calls from patients as far away as Iwate and Oita prefectures.”
One group increasing in number, however, is that of prefectures joining the movement to legalize casinos — among them Shizuoka, Miyazaki and Osaka prefectures. Prefectural governors, however, are still divided on the issue of whether casinos should be built or not. In a November 2001 Kyodo News poll of all governors, just 27 gave a clear “yes” or “no” response. Of these, 12 were in favor of building casinos and 15 disapproved of the idea.
In spite of these reservations, however, pragmatism may yet win the day. The economic arguments all stack up in favor of casinos. Even psychiatrists like Iwasaki, who have seen close-hand the fallout of gambling, are forced to concede the inevitability of money-making gambling operations. As he puts it: “I am not against the introduction of casinos, but there would need to be strict regulations, such as a limit on their number.”