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Japan lawmakers begin debate on bill to allow casinos, in push to lure more foreign tourists

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TOKYO - Japanese lawmakers began debate Wednesday on a bill that would allow casino resorts in an attempt to attract more foreign tourists and investment.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party favours the plan as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's strategy of boosting economic growth by doubling the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan to over 20 million by 2020.

Japan already has a thriving gambling industry based on "pachinko" pinball and slot machine arcades, lotteries and boat and horse racing. Opponents of the casino bill contend it could lead to an increase in gambling addiction, money laundering and organized crime.

Despite calls for at least one casino on the Tokyo Bay waterfront, Tokyo's governor, Yoichi Masuzoe, said recently that he would find it difficult to support such proposals.

"There are pros and cons. Many women in Tokyo are against the creation of casinos and they think about the bad influences of casinos," he told a recent news conference.

Supporters of the bill say Singapore and Macau are good models for boosting tourism through lucrative casino resorts, and gambling tycoons have shown strong interest in investing in such projects.

They emphasize that the casinos would be part of more diverse "integrated resorts" that would provide a range of leisure and entertainment options.

"The intention is to increase competitiveness and enhance the attractiveness of our tourist destinations," Hiroyuki Hosoda, a ruling party lawmaker sponsoring the bill, told a legislative committee Wednesday.

"Our 'visit Japan' and Abenomics policies need this policy," said Masaaki Taira, another ruling party lawmaker. "The 'Godfather world' is over," he said.

Still, he and other lawmakers acknowledged a need to win public support for the bill, which was proposed just a few days before parliament begins its summer recess, reducing the likelihood it will be enacted this year given the raft of other legislation that must be dealt with.

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