TOKYO - Japan's ruling parties reached a consensus Tuesday on a bill that will pave the way for casino gambling in the country, with people living in Japan to be charged 6,000 yen ($57) in entrance fees while foreign visitors can enter for free.
The bill is expected to be submitted to the Diet later this month, with the government hoping to see the enactment of the law by the end of the current parliament session through June 20.
If parliament passes the bill on "integrated resorts," casinos would open around mid-2020. But the bill is likely to draw resistance from opposition parties as well as some of the public who are against casino gambling in the country.
The government hopes casinos will help attract more overseas visitors and boost regional economies outside the capital.
A law that came into effect in 2016 ended a ban on casinos in integrated resorts that encompass hotels, conference rooms and event facilities in Japan, but the development of further legislation on the actual operation of the entertainment facilities has been under way.
The ruling parties had been divided over the fee with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party preferring to cap the entrance fee at 5,000 yen, while its coalition partner Komeito called for 8,000 yen, citing the need to impose a charge at a level similar to that of Singapore out of concerns of problems associated with gambling.
The two parties have already endorsed the plan to build the entertainment facilities in up to three locations and impose casino entrance restrictions -- up to three times a week and 10 per month -- on people living in Japan.
"Opening integrated resorts in only three locations can provide only limited opportunities for rural economies. (IR) should open in more locations," said Kazuaki Sasaki, an associate professor at Toyo University who has expertise in international tourism.
"The 6,000-yen entrance fee is too high considering income levels in rural areas. It could hamper the casino business by discouraging people from visiting casinos," Sasaki said.
In the meantime, a doctor dealing with patients with a gambling addiction said some studies suggest that the number of people suffering from pathological gambling increased in areas where casinos were built overseas.
"(Allowing casino gambling) comes with a risk of increasing the number of patients," said Sachio Matsushita, deputy director of the National Hospital Organization Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, known for treatment programs for various forms of addiction.
Also, there are concerns among the public about issues of community safety around the entertainment facilities and gambling addiction.
The government survey released last September estimated that about 3.2 million Japanese adults are suspected to have experienced gambling addiction in their lifetime.