Channel NewsAsia

Aspiring dealers head to school as Japan PM considers legalising casinos

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to dispatch his study team to the US and Singapore as a review of the legislation to legalise casinos is set to go into full swing in the upcoming parliamentary session.

TOKYO: A group of people enjoying a leisurely game of blackjack - they may look like they are having fun but in reality, they are preparing for an exam to earn them a professional dealers' qualification from the Japan Casino School. Students above the age of 20 years can apply for various courses in the school, which can last between three and 12 months. During the various courses, students will acquire skills in poker, roulette and mini baccarat.

Tuition fees for a one-year course can cost up to US$8,000.

Yusuke Kato, one of the students, said: "It was about a year ago... I thought about what I wanted to do for my future. Being a dealer seemed fun." Misato Kurihara, a fellow student at the school, said: "I went to England on a working holiday for two years. When I returned, I wanted to do something where my age, gender would not matter, something new. Then I heard that casinos are expected to be legalised (in Japan), so I decided to apply here."

About 470 students have graduated from this school since it first opened in 2004. Around 100 of them are working overseas - in places such as Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and on luxury cruise ships. In 2012, due to fewer applicants, the school almost had to shut down. But the school's fortunes have since been reversed after Japan won the bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.

Masayoshi Oiwane, the president of the Japan Casino School, said: "At that time, there weren't any bills formed with regards to casinos. But we started to receive applicants. And later in December 2013, the casino legislation was formed and now we are in the middle of a V-shaped recovery."

The opening of casinos are expected to bring economic benefits to Japan - all part of PM Abe's plan to revive the country's stagnant economy. A government official who declined to be named tells Channel NewsAsia that casinos will inject much needed fiscal revenue into central and local governments coffers.

However, analysts said there is still no clear indication of numbers and that any economic gains will be mostly about increasing tourism rather than creating jobs. Masamichi Adachia, the Chief Economist at JPMorgan Securities Japan, said: "Our population is shrinking. Demand from Japanese people is likely to shrink. So we want to have more foreign tourists to come to casinos. Basically the casinos are for foreigners and tourists."

Still, the public are concerned that casinos will worsen social problems - such as the involvement of mafia syndicates and the increase in gambling addiction. The Health Ministry said Japan's addiction levels are already higher than other industrialised nations - at 8.8 per cent of the population for men and and 1.6 per cent for women - with their main vices being pachinko and horse-racing.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has plans to address such concerns - he is considering an integrated resort plan similar to the one in Singapore's, where local residents are charged an entrance fee. Some critics have also suggested a government-controlled integrated resort to solve concerns around mafia involvement, though this move could also hamper foreign investment.

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