Japan vote puts big-time casinos on the cards

A casino bill clears a key Japanese parliament panel, paving the way for high-stakes gambling and casino resorts.

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan is placing its bests on a full-scale casino industry.

A controversial bill to legalise casinos passing through a key parliamentary panel late on Tuesday (Dec 13), essentially guaranteeing it will be enacted into law.

That paves the way for the sort of resorts seen in Macau - to lure in high roller tourists eager to hit the gaming floor.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set tourism as a key goal to boost the economy seen as critical in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The casino bill has failed to gain traction for years. Critics saying they fear gambling could fuel addiction and organised crime.

Official polling also shows that around half of Japanese people oppose the bill, and there was even concern within Abe's ruling coalition.

But Japan has already got gambling of a sort, Pachinko is a widespread but tolerated form of betting that operates in a legal grey area, where customers gamble for tokens they can exchange for prizes, or money at a separate location.

The bill will not immediately green light casino grand openings - just legalise plans.

Proponents of the casino bill want to push legislation next year to fire up construction.