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Komeito cautious over casinos / Low Cabinet rating boosts opponents

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, right, speaks at a meeting between the government and ruling party officials on Tuesday.

The Yomiuri ShimbunKomeito has been increasingly showing wariness over the enactment of a bill legislating for the operation of casinos in integrated resorts by the end of this year.

The low approval rating of the Cabinet has given momentum to lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s coalition partner, who are cautious of the bill’s enactment. It has given them a new a reason not to hasten a lifting of the ban on casinos, as cautious views also remain strong in the general public.

As the government and the LDP are aiming to submit and pass the bill at an extraordinary Diet session in autumn, different stances on the legislation among the ruling parties are likely to reach a flash point.

“I want discussions to proceed while paying close attention to various responses from the general public,” said Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, when he was asked about the bill at a press conference on Thursday. He stressed his intention to carefully discuss the matter within the party while closely monitoring public opinion.

Komeito’s project team on the matter will start discussions on the content of the bill in September, based on opinions from the general public collected by the government, among other resources. Details regarding casino regulations will be a major focus. However, a senior Komeito official said, “At any rate, it should not be enacted at the [autumn] extraordinary session.” Some members in the party urge postponing the enactment to a regular Diet session next year or later.

In December last year, a lawmaker-sponsored law was enacted to lift the ban on casinos. The bill that the government hopes to submit at an extraordinary Diet session in autumn will stipulate the procedure for opening integrated resorts (IR) in addition to necessary regulations, and, if passed, will ultimately pave the way for the opening of casinos.

Komeito failed to consolidate the opinions of its members for the vote held last year on the initial bill to lift the ban.

As a result, among a total of 60 lawmakers from the the lower and upper houses, 41 members — including former leader Akihiro Ota and Yoshio Urushibara, chair of the party’s central secretariat — voted in favor, while 18 members, including Yamaguchi and Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue, voted against, and one member abstained.

The initial bill was jointly submitted in 2015 by parties including the LDP and what was then known as the Japan Innovation Party. Komeito was not involved in the submission. The latest IR operation bill will be submitted by the government. A veteran Komeito official said, “It is not permissible to have members vote independently, let alone vote against a government-sponsored bill,” as a ruling coalition partner.

The party members have come to be more wary of the bill after the sharp drop in the approval rating of the previous Cabinet following the Tokyo assembly election in July. Yamaguchi stated clearly that his stance “has not changed” since he voted against the casino law, in an interview carried in Ushio magazine published on Aug. 5.

Even a senior official who has advocated for the opening of casinos recently said: “If we hastily enact a bill without the full understanding of the general public, it may spur a drop in the approval rating. It could affect the next lower house election.”

Komeito leadership plans to carefully consider an appropriate time to submit and vote on the bill, while closely watching out for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dissolution of the House of Representatives for a general election.Speech

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