Japan may not hit tourism jackpot with casinos, say agents


Travel operators have given a guarded welcome to Japan’s legalisation of casinos as part of the government’s raft of new measures to promote tourism, warning that gambling alone is unlikely to prove a strong drawcard for visitors to a country hitherto known for its cultural offerings.

Since the law came into effect on December 26, the Japanese government has set up a panel to draw up additional legislation to regulate the operations of casinos by end-2017, with the hopes that the first integrated resorts will be operational before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Tokyo’s Odaiba waterfront has been earmarked as a potential site for the capital’s first casino, while similar proposals have also been put forth in Okinawa and Osaka.

Domestic travel giant HIS, which has also indicated its intention to set up an integrated resort, is considering utilising land at its Dutch-themed Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki Prefecture.

Pankaj Pradhan, managing director of Beauty of Japan, sees casinos as a way to grow tourism revenue and jobs. “Most likely, this will also increase the flow of Chinese tourists and alter the image of Japan to a more versatile country that caters to a wide range of visitors,” he added.

But he cautioned that casinos could also take Japan’s image “in the wrong direction”, away from the unique culture, heritage and landscapes that the country is renowned for.

Carl Kay, president of Tokyo Way, pointed out that the majority of his clients, most of whom hail from North America and Europe, visit Japan “for its culture” and are unlikely to select Japan solely because of its legalised gambling opportunities. Gambling visitors are more likely to choose Las Vegas or Macau over Japan, he added.

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