Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured Singapore's two casino resorts on Friday as his country considers allowing casino gambling to boost tourism and attract investment.
Abe, in the city-state to deliver a speech at a regional defense and security conference, spent 40 minutes visiting Marina Bay Sands and then Resorts World on Sentosa island.
Japan, home to 128 million people and the world's third-largest economy, is widely seen as a prize market for casino operators due to its affluent population and close proximity to wealthy Asian gamblers in the region.
Abe, who has so far remained silent on the issue of casinos, was taken round Marina Bay Sands by its chief executive, George Tanasijevich, touring its convention centre and taken to a viewing area to look down on its gaming floor.
He then surprised tourists sunning themselves by the 150-meter long infinity pool on the resort's rooftop by appearing at the water's edge dressed in his suit with members of the media in tow.
Japan has been deliberating opening casinos for more than a decade but the chances have never been higher than now.
While parliament is unlikely to pass a bill in the current parliament session which ends next month, proponents are aiming to pass it in the autumn extraordinary session, industry sources said on Friday.
"It's logistically difficult for it to pass in the current session," said one political source, adding that he and other supporters of the bill were still hoping to start parliamentary debate next month.
The same person saw little likelihood legislation would be delayed until next year, which could leave too little time to build the resorts in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But Toru Mihara, an Osaka University of Commerce professor, said that was a possibility with some politicians still in opposition.
"In the worst case, it will be next year. We need to be prepared for that," he said.
If the current bill passes, debate will move on to a second bill concerning actual regulations, which proponents hope can be passed in 2016.
International casino companies including Las Vegas Sands, Genting, MGM Resorts and Melco Crown have all been trying to position themselves ahead of the bill passing. Genting Singapore has set up eight subsidiaries in Japan for investment holding, leisure and related businesses, the company said on Tuesday in a notice to the Singapore stock exchange.
Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands has said he would spend USD$10 billion on developing a casino resort while rivals have announced investment of around USD$5 billion for a casino in either Tokyo or Osaka.
Singapore’s two integrated resorts which combine casinos with dining, shopping, entertainment and convention business are the preferred model Japan would emulate, lawmakers have said.
Marina Bay Sands, which cost USD$5.4 billion, has helped to boost convention business in Singapore, while Resorts World Sentosa, which houses a Universal Studios theme park and a large aquarium, has helped to lure record numbers of tourists since opening in 2010.
Industry executives have said in private that a Marina Bay Sands-type resort would be a good fit for Tokyo while a more leisure-focused resort like Sentosa would be better suited to Osaka or a regional city.