TOKYO: Clients emerge from black stretch limousines, displaying VIP passports to the staff. Inside, the building is decked out in crystal chandeliers and ornate black-and-gold wallpaper.
The tinkling of neon-lit slot machines blends with the clatter of an electronic mahjong table which mixes the tiles for waiting players.
Las Vegas Adachi would seem to be just another commercial casino – but it’s actually a day care centre for the elderly in Japan.
It was a trip to an actual casino in Las Vegas that inspired the CEO of Day Service Las Vegas, Mr Kaoru Mori, to set up this unusual centre. At the MGM Grand casino, the former salesman was surprised to see a large number of elderly patrons.
“They were placing small bets – only $10 or $15. But they were all dressed up for their day out and clearly having fun,” he said.
That scene gave him the confidence to take a gamble of his own: Setting up a casino-themed day care centre back home in 2014.
“The ageing of the population is a central problem confronting Japan, where around 6.22 million people need care,” said Mr Mori.
"I wanted to create a place that gives the elderly a reason to head out."
It was a bold move then as gambling in Japan is frowned upon – indeed, casinos would only be legalised two years later in 2016.
INCENTIVE TO EXERCISE
But the games and services provided by Day Service Las Vegas are part of a system designed to motivate the elderly to keep fit physically and mentally.
For one, no actual money is used within the centre. Before clients can begin playing each day, they have to have their temperatures and blood pressures checked, and do stretching exercises to earn 10,000 gaming credits, called ‘Vegas’.
“Many elderly people don’t like doing exercises, so this is a good way to get them to take part,” said Las Vegas Adachi’s manager Mayu Ichikawa.
Clients can use their ‘Vegas’ to play games such as mahjong, poker, blackjack and pachinko (jackpot).
Madam Katzuko Kikuchi, 83, is a regular at the mahjong tables. “I have friends here and the games are fun,” she said.
Besides table games, clients can also get massages, sing karaoke, play with brain training games, read, paint or watch movies. The games at the centre help stimulate brain function and can improve memory, math skills and situational judgement, said Mr Mori.
In addition, games are regularly interspersed with five- to 20-minute exercise routines throughout the day. The centre also offers a 45-minute rehabilitation service session to train their clients’ muscles.
Today, Mr Mori’s wager would appear to have paid off – even his own 93-year-old mother is a regular client. And the Adachi centre is just one of the 16 Day Service Las Vegas outlets catering to nearly 700 clients across Japan.
Yet, one potential complication threatens to derail its success. The centre is currently kept affordable for seniors, as Japan’s long-term care insurance system pays for 90 per cent of its S$100-a-day charges.
But it might not continue to be insured in the years to come, as this insurance system is under growing strain as Japan ages, and is being reformed with raised premiums.
Casino-styled centres are also still frowned upon by many – for instance, in 2015, Kobe voted to ban mahjong and slot machines from its eldercare centres.
But Mr Mori, who never wanted to “just make another ‘elderly home’”, still firmly believes that his centre helps his elderly clients – nearly half of whom have dementia – become healthier and happier.
I think people want to believe that they are still young deep down, but when they age and need a care service, that in itself makes them feel old.
“Here we don’t treat the elderly like children who need care, but as adults who need to be engaged and energised… I believe that people will live longer if they feel happy every day, and we put this principle into practice here,” he said.
This is part of a CNA Insider series on the services for seniors in Japan, based on a recent study trip by the Lien Foundation.
Earlier articles: A Tokyo nursing home’s single rooms, no-diapers policy; and How this Aeon mall woos elderly shoppers.