TOKYO/SINGAPORE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said casino resorts could become a pillar of his country's future economic growth as he toured Singapore's two lavish gaming venues on Friday.
Abe, who until now has remained silent on the issue of casinos, gave a strong endorsement to legislation that would legalise casino gambling in Japan. "I think integrated resorts will be a key part of Japan's economic growth strategy," he was quoted by Japanese media as saying.
Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is considering allowing casino gambling to boost tourism and attract investment.
The country is widely seen as a prize market for casino operators due to its affluent population of 128 million and its close proximity to wealthy Asian gamblers in the region.
Abe visited the Marina Bay Sands, a three-tower resort on the Singapore waterfront owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands, surprising tourists sunning themselves by the infinity pool on the rooftop as he appeared in a suit with members of the media in tow.
He then headed to Resorts World on Sentosa island, owned by Genting Singapore.
Abe, who was visiting Singapore to deliver a speech at a regional defence conference, said he hoped Japanese lawmakers would carefully consider the benefits casino resorts could bring.
"I would like them to deliberate with a perspective on what needs to be done to bolster Japan's attractiveness, and how to get people to visit," Japanese media quoted him as saying.
Japan has been deliberating on opening casinos for more than a decade but the chances now seem higher than previously.
While parliament is unlikely to pass a bill in the current parliament session which ends next month, proponents are aiming to pass one in the extraordinary session in the autumn, political and industry sources said on Friday.