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Responsible Gaming in Japan: Bill to be key to Japan’s Gaming Market

Monday, 30 April 2018 12:28
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Global Market Advisors’ Brendan D Bussman runs through the pros and cons of Japan’s problem gambling legislation.

By Brendan D Bussmann

As Japan continues to look at the development of integrated resorts (IR), many people engaged and following the market are focused on the IR Implementation Bill. While it is important to know the regulatory framework, it is just as important for operators and interested parties to understand the importance of responsible gaming measures. This second bill that has sometimes been overlooked in recent months focuses on this topic.

Japan has the fortunate position of being able to use the Republic of Singapore, which launched its quest for IRs roughly 15 years ago, as a guide. Not only do they have Singapore’s Casino Regulatory Authority as a model for the regulatory body, they also have the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) as a reference point as they develop an atmosphere of responsible gaming.

NCPG is a separate organization that was formed to work specifically on responsible gaming issues across all forms of gaming in Singapore. Additionally, there are case studies that can serve as guidelines for both the regulatory and responsible gaming measures that were not available at the time of Singapore’s launch.

Japan continues to view the social safeguards and framework from Singapore as a potential foundation. There are currently a couple of versions of legislation to handle “gambling addiction countermeasures.” While there are differing opinions towards integrated resorts among Japan’s population, one that is consistent in surveys is that the people of Japan are concerned about gambling addiction. These will be addressed in both of the bills to be passed before the selection of sites and operators are made.

Some of the social safeguards that have been spelled out as part of the discussions in the IR Implementation Bill include the number of visits by locals, the casino levy to be imposed on locals and the size of the gaming floor.

In discussions between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Komeito on terms of the IR Implementation Bill, the Komeito wants to restrict the size of casinos and access by residents. This includes limiting residents to three visits a week with a maximum of 10 visits a month. This will be monitored through the My Number Card.

While everyone has a My Number, only a limited number of Japanese actually carry the card with them which will present its own challenges.

The current draft of the bill also includes a ¥6,000 (US$54) casino levy or entrance fee for locals. The casino floor will be limited in size as a percentage of the entire integrated resort. Many of these same measures have in some form or fashion been applied in Singapore and give stakeholders insight into best practices.

Japanese media, while having general concerns about integrated resorts, have also expressed concerns on the casino levy which should be, and is, an admission fee. In a recent editorial by The Tokyo Shimbun, they noted that the ¥6,000 admission fee and weekly/monthly restrictions on casino visits will do nothing to curb gambling excesses. Noriko Tanaka, who oversees a foundation that addresses gambling addiction, stated in a blog that the admission fee is “pointless” as it will do nothing to affect those that may have a problem with gambling or are compulsive gamblers. It will only discourage those recreational gamblers that want to gamble responsibly because the ¥6,000 entrance fee is “nothing” to someone that is a compulsive gambler.

Singapore’s experience with casino levies can serve as an example of how a casino levy may be a true social safeguard n compulsive gambling or merely a tax on residents when a profound majority gamble responsibly. The most recent survey on gambling in Singapore showed that there is a high percentage of Singaporeans that are gambling but the percentage that have a problem with gambling has statistically remained the same.

While there has been an increase in the amount of gaming research in Asia, there has been little if any research that indicates entry levies reduce problem gambling, and some industry experts have suggested that it encourages problematic “chasing” behavior. The same blog by Tanaka tends to agree with this assessment that these measures have proved “unsuccessful at curbing compulsive behavior” as they were intended to do.

In 2017, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) International Gaming Institute (IGI) released a comprehensive look at the socio-economic impact of IRs on Japan through its publication, Social- Economic Impacts of Japanese Integrated Resorts – Review & Recommendations. There is significant insight that can be found into their recommendations to address the social concerns of gaming that have been expressed by the Japanese.

There were three main recommendations out of this extensive report for Japan to consider as it legislates integrated resorts. First, Japan should establish a gamblingneutral National Problem Gambling Council that develops a public health safety net for gamblers. It would also advocate for individuals that develop gambling disorders. The report further suggests that this organization develop advertising and standards to raise awareness while limiting the exposure to those that may be vulnerable. It should also develop educational programs aimed at youths to prevent underage gambling.

The second recommendation is to establish a framework for IR operators to address responsible gaming measures. This would include developing strategies and programs in partnership with this new organization, including a program to address responsible alcohol consumption, distribution procedures and training to respond to intoxicated individuals. UNLV stresses that these programs should include evidence-based policies and research as a guide into their programs. They also suggest that operators develop research and evaluation tools to ensure the effectiveness and transparency of the program as it continues to evolve. Major operators already have in place global programs that use evidence-based research that support their responsible gaming measures and training programs for staff.

The third recommendation suggests an overall investment in responsible gaming research. This would go beyond the recommendation for individual operators to conduct their own research. UNLV stresses that priority “should be development/ validation of gambling disorder screening  tools for application in Japanese culture.” There is a large community of researchers throughout the world that the Japanese can lean on in partnership with local academics.

UNLV’s report also states that a longterm research strategy should be developed to look at policies including wager limits and admission fees/entry levies. These policies should not be implemented immediately. Rather, they should first determine their effectiveness to avoid any unintended consequences from policies not rooted in evidence-based research. Any responsible gaming programs developed in Japan should be evidence-based and should focus on all (IR-based and non-IR-based) forms of gambling including pachinko.

Responsible gaming and social safeguards will continue to be the critical issues as Japan develops its gaming policies. These issues have been top-of-mind for both the public and legislators as the latter continues to debate how to regulate casino gaming. It is expected that operators submitting proposals will be evaluated on responsible gaming initiatives that they may have carried out in other jurisdictions.

Corporate social responsibility will be a focus as well, including an operator’s existing commitment to offer an environment of responsible gaming and serve as a good corporate citizen in their host communities in Japan.

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