First, some background. On November 29th last year, a general meeting of the LDP held debate on the possibility of legalising the operation of casinos in a specially designated area within the Tokyo metropolitan area. The meeting saw the introduction of legislation, dubbed the ‘Intergrated Resort Promotion Law’, which had the blessings of the upper echelons of the LDP, including PM Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso, both of whom saw the legislation as a means to revitalise the stagnant domestic economy and entice international consortiums to set up operations in the capital region. Not only would a casino bring revenue into Japan, it would also serve as a useful aside to the 2020 Olympic Games, attracting gamblers who might otherwise take little interest in the sports on display (J).
On the 5th of December, the ‘International Tourism Industries Promotion Alliance’ (a group of politicians from the LDP, the Reform Party, the Lifestyle Party, and the Everyone’s Party formed in 2010) presented the IR Promotion legislation to the Lower House. The legislation itself is still under debate within the ordinary session of the Diet, with hopes that it will be passed before the end of the session mid-year. Should the legislation be passed through the Diet, then an IR Promotion Committee (consisting of a staff of 20) will be established for the purposes of designating the site for the casino (and related businesses). This process will involve consultations with local government organisations, who will be invited to bid for the rights to host the casino (J).
There are, of course, a large number of issues that remain to be resolved before any construction actually takes place, not least of which is how both the federal and municipal governments can prevent any casinos from being overtaken by organized crime. This, it appears, is one of the sticking points on approving the passage of the legislation. In a nation that has a very regulated market vis-à-vis gambling, the potential for international consortiums to establish themselves in Japan raises concerns about just how effectively Japan’s own regulators will be able to ensure that the casino does not become a front for international money laundering and so forth. Not only this, the potential for casinos to add to the problem of gambling addiction has community groups worried, and this in turn is filtering back through political channels to representatives in the Diet (although this is more of a concern for urban constituencies than rural ones, which is why the casino plan it is being so vigorously opposed by the JCP (J).
Clearly for Japan to accept such a sensitive topic (and it is sensitive, as demonstrated by the stance of the New Komeito (J), who aren’t approving any legislation that hasn’t first be rigorously debated in the Diet), the character of those businesses wishing to bid for the rights to construct the casino are going to be closely scrutinised. While there is no suggestion of impropriety by Packer (who recently joined PM Abbott on his visit to East Asia), the footage of his public brawl with Gyngell might make legislators in Japan think twice about allowing him to expand his casino business into the Tokyo area (Japan already has enough brawling gamblers and underworld rivalries to contend with without having to worry about potential pugilism from James Packer – after all, if this is how he deals with his friends, what happens when he runs into regulations he doesn’t like?).
Packer’s reputation won’t concern most Japanese if he can convince them of his suitability of temperament and adherence to legal procedures. The absence of any controversy over Packer’s dealings in Macao will hold him in good stead, although his difficulties in Sri Lanka will cloud the judgment of any committee tasked with reviewing submissions. At this stage in proceedings, Packer has little to worry about as legal arguments over the casino are a long way from being resolved, yet it is early enough for Packer to embark on a PR campaign among Japan’s political and bureaucratic circles to ensure that his reputation remains intact. A few trips to Kasumigaseki and Nagata-chō may be in order for Packer over the next few months.