Legislation to legalise casinos and live gambling, which would likely include poker, may be put forward in Japan’s parliament later this year.
It comes as an influential pro-casino lobby group in the country names a member of Japan’s governing party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as its leader and political face of the group’s push for change. Hiroyuki Hosoda is a long-time member of Japan’s House of Representatives, having first been elected to the house in 1990. 69-year-old Hosoda holds some degree of clout in the LDP, having been the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Government, a highly prestigious position, in the mid-2000s.
While Japan is known for having traditional, conservative views with regards to most social issues, the lobby group may get some traction if it can pitch its desired reforms as having an economic benefit. The Japanese economy is notorious for having stagnated since the 1990s following a rapid and impressive economic ascendency following the Second World War.
Gambling is prominent throughout Japan, even though it is technically illegal. The country has been described as the largest casino and gambling market in Asia after Macau, with the potential for an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars to officially exist. This could prove to be a point that may entice others in Japan’s parliament to agree to the legalisation of casinos in the country.
Another point that may entice gambling and casino reforms to occur in Japan is the growing popularity and exposure of poker among Japanese throughout the nation. It largely comes following the performances of a number of Japanese players on the global professional poker stage in recent times, performances which are beginning to be noticed by their countrymen.
One such player is Naoya Kihara, who captured headlines in June 2012 as the first ever Japanese winner to win a Gold Bracelet in the World Series of Poker. Kihara took out the Pot Limit Omaha Six Handed event at last year’s WSOP, earning himself $512,029 in the process. The Tokyo native’s victory did not go unnoticed in his country, and he has since become a notable advocate of casino legalisation.
Another Japanese poker player succeeding on the world stage is Yoshitaka Okawa. In January, just seven months over Kihara’s WSOP win, Okawa won the largest tournament in the Macau Poker Cup, the Red Dragon Main Event, topping a 532-player field to take out HK$1,123,000 (around US$144,880). Kihara and Okawa’s victories in such short succession are likely to further spur the growth of poker in their country.
A bill for the legalisation of casinos may be tabled in September, following an election of Japan’s upper house which is set to occur in July.