July 20 (UPI) -- Japanese Parliament for the first time Friday approved casino gambling, paving the way for new casinos and revenues by the middle of the next decade.
The Diet, Tokyo's parliamentary body, authorized Friday the building of "integrated resorts" to include casinos, hotels, shopping centers and conference rooms. The more powerful legislature, the House of Councillors, approved the bill a month ago.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has voiced support for legalizing gambling as part of a plan to improve tourism and stimulate economies outside Tokyo.
Asia already has several popular gambling destinations -- Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau -- and Japan's possible future sites include Osaka, Nagasaki, Wakayama and Hokkaido prefecture. A casino in Tokyo has been suggested, but not yet formally proposed.
Officials say the first Japanese casino will likely open in the mid-2020s. U.S. gaming companies like Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Resorts International have pledged to spend as much as $10 billion per resort in Japan.
Lotteries and betting on horse racing, bicycle racing and boat racing are already legal in Japan -- but until now, full-fledged casinos have not been.
Although Tokyo's move Friday will open a new and great stream of revenue, some worry the casinos might also bring a rise in crime -- and Japanese opinion polls show most, nearly two-thirds, oppose their legalization.
"Some say casinos would create more employment, but this will be built upon someone else's loss from gambling," said Yukio Edano of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. "It is impossible to grow the economy through casinos."
The new law offers some safeguards, including a limited number of times Japanese citizens can visit a casino, as well as a $53 entrance fee. Foreign visitors will be able to enter at no cost.
The Daiwa Institute of Research said casinos at three locations could generate an initial economic impact of nearly $9 billion, and nearly $2 billion per year annually, the Mainichi newspaper reported.