TOKYO - Japan's plan to legalise casino gambling has likely been delayed again, a senior official said on Monday, dealing a further political blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Casino operators including Las Vegas Sands, Genting Singapore, MGM Resorts and Melco Crown Entertainment are waiting in the wings as potential investors in what analysts say is one of the world's biggest untapped markets, worth tens of billions of dollars a year.
But Parliament was unlikely to have enough time to pass the controversial law during the current session of Parliament, the coalition official said.
"The hurdle is quite high for both Lower and Upper houses to enact it" during the current session which ends on Nov 30, Mr Keiichi Ishii, policy chief of Komeito, the junior partner in Mr Abe's coalition government, told Reuters.
Mr Abe, who wants Japan's first casino open in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, saw two Cabinet ministers resign on Monday, moves that could complicate tough decisions on key policies.
Mr Abe has made legalising casino gambling, hugely popular in Asian centres Macau and Singapore, a pillar of his plan to revive economic growth.
The "integrated resort" Bill has already been carried over from a previous session of parliament. It could also struggle to pass in the ordinary session from early 2015, which will be dominated by major bills such as the national budget.
Support from Komeito is seen as crucial for the bill since Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party does not have a majority on its own in the Upper House. But Mr Ishii said there was concern among some Komeito members over the effects of gambling on society.
Mr Abe has said casino resorts would help the economy by boosting tourism.
But market researchers say Japan's 128 million people would likely account for most of the revenue and casino operators have said foreigner-only resorts could struggle to make a profit.
Pro-casino lawmakers last week agreed to revise the Bill by mentioning the need for limits on Japanese nationals' entry to casinos, bowing to pressure from opponents who threatened to block legalisation unless issues such as gambling addiction were addressed.
Proponents of the Bill said the revision did not mean Japanese nationals would be banned and that details of limits, such as a possible entry fee, would be decided in a second bill to be drafted next year.