Japan's casino bribery scandal deals Abe a tough hand | Anti Corruption Digest

Sunday 1st March 2020

YOKOHAMA -- A few hundred meters from the constituency office of Japan's top government spokesman, a group of about 150 Yokohama residents braved the rain to protest against ambitions to build a casino in the city.

The demonstrators called on Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, to "immediately scrap" the plan. "Gambling will mean the extortion of money from the people of Yokohama and the people of Japan," group member Masatoshi Goto shouted into a microphone at a crowd holding "No! Casino" placards. "We can't allow this!"

The protests last week in Yokohama echo widespread Japanese disdain for gambling and the baggage that comes with it.

This aversion, backed up by public opinion polls, did not stop Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government from passing legislation in July 2018 to legalize casinos. The government argued that opening "integrated resorts" or "IRs" -- large entertainment complexes centered on casinos along with hotels, restaurants and conference centers -- would ignite more growth in tourism.

But after a casino policy point man from Abe's Liberal Democratic Party was arrested late last year on bribery charges, the government is taking longer than expected to set basic guidelines for the selection of resort host cities. In the meantime, a groundswell of opposition is building.

In Yokohama, Goto is launching a petition to hold a city referendum on the issue. His group needs 62,000 signatures, or one-fiftieth of Yokohama's voting-age population, to force a plebiscite. Nearly 30,000 people have already signed up to collect names.

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