On Christmas Day 2019, a senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office in Japan, Tsukasa Akimoto, was arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes from Chinese casino operators to ‘grease the wheels’ in their favor.
Upon questioning by the Public Prosecutors Office, Akimoto named 5 others who have also received money from a Chinese casino company. The latest allegations come in the wake of a scandal involving bribery of Japanese officials by Chinese online gambling operator 500.com.
Political Funds Control Law in Japan
In order to avoid the possibility of bribery and corruption in the government, Japan’s laws on politicians receiving donations are very strict. The Political Funds Control Law prohibits public officials from receiving donations or gifts of any kind by foreign citizens or companies.
500.com adviser Katsunori Nakazato said he gave ¥1 million ($9,200) each to 5 lawmakers in September 2017, when the Chinese online casino company set up an office in Tokyo. In addition, Tsukasa Akimoto was given ¥3 million in donations and ¥700,000 from the Chinese company for travel expenses.
500.com is part of a fiercely competitive and ongoing bidding war to be one of the first casino companies to obtain one of 3 initial casino licenses in Japan. The Chinese gambling firm concentrated on Hokkaido as their favored casino site, until the Hokkaido Prefecture pulled out of the casino race over environmental impact fears.
Japan’s Casino Race
It’s been a long year in the race to obtain the first 3 integrated resort (IR) casino licenses in Japan. The process involved individual cities and prefectures choosing to host a casino, then the flood gates opened to foreign bidders. The usual international casino moguls circled the Japanese islands like vultures, hoping to cash in on the lucrative IR market in Japan. Analysts predict that the Japanese casino market will rival Macau’s in sheer revenue.
The Japanese government has taken precautions to protect its citizens from potential harm from gambling by limiting their access to casinos. This measure aims to protect citizens from potential gambling addiction, while setting up a solid influx of cash from international gambling tourism.
But the bribery scandal could not have come at a worse time. Just when all the potential casino sites were approved, and the list of serious bidders was narrowed down – disaster struck.
The latest wrinkle in Japan’s IR casino plans now involves lengthy court proceedings and trials. We’ll be lucky to see a casino in Japan by 2030 at this point.
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