Hard Rock not giving up in Hokkaido

By Mia Chapman Updated
Hard Rock not giving up in Hokkaido

Hard Rock International isn’t taking no for an answer in the Japanese prefecture of Hokkaido, as it looks to open an integrated resort in the region.

In November, Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki said his prefecture was withdrawing from the competition to become home to an integrated resort, leaving some operators in the lurch.

The rapidly growing gaming business of Seminole Tribe was one of three operators, alongside Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment and Rush Street Japan who were keen to bring an integrated resort to Hokkaido.

Hard Rock Japan president Ado Machida wasn’t pleased with Governor Suzuki’s decision, but intimated that his company isn’t throwing in the towel on Hokkaido just yet.

Japan is another frontier in Hard Rock’s international expansion efforts, which also include participation in integrated resort competitions in Australia and Greece, among other locations.

The company currently runs two Canadian gaming venues and one in the Dominican Republic.

Last week, one of Hard Rock’s rivals, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment said it is still evaluating its options in northern Asia and that it respects Suzuki’s call to pull Hokkaido out of the integrated resort fray.

Rush Street Japan is yet to comment publicly on its Japan plans, with its preferred prefecture now out of the running.


Talks difficult but Hard Rock persisting

Hard Rock appears willing to stay the course with Hokkaido, but Machida noted it has been difficult to talk with Suzuki since his decision.

“We will continue our efforts for a future IR bid in Hokkaido,” Machida told Inside Asian Gaming.

“Of course, we are an official partner of the soccer team Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, and we will continue our sponsorship of the Sapporo Snow Festival,” he said.

A change of tact from Hard Rock could pay dividends in the future, because Suzuki didn’t say the prefecture was permanently out of the running.

Additionally, Japan’s initial round of gaming licence rewards will go to just three areas for just three venues – with Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka widely viewed as the leading contenders.

Hard Rock was planning to spend $5 billion in Hokkaido, which is about 10 times what the company spent to open hard Rock on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Hokkaido pulls out of Japanese IR race

An avalanche of developments from mayors in Japan and gaming and hotel operators across the world greeted Japan’s announcement of its official timeline for prefectures and cities to apply for an integrated resort licence.

Calvin Ayre reports that Hokkaido, whose governor has decided it is no longer a goal worth pursuing, were more considered.

Connecticut casino operator Mohegan Sun showed its commitment to partnering with the prefecture on a resort project last month, opening an office in the city of Tomakomai.

Caesars and Hard Rock were also courting the prefecture.

Hokkaido’s governor, Noamichi Suzuki, hoped to build an environmentally friendly casino in Tomakomai, close to New Chitoise Airport.

But he conceded last Friday that the research necessary to pull off such a project would take too long and did not fit with the central government’s timelines.

Hokkaido is Japan’s largest and most northerly prefecture, comprising the entirety of the country’s second-largest main island.

According to Kyodo News, locals have expressed concerns about the impact construction would have on the ecology of the nearby Lake Utonai and the surrounding area, which is on a list of international protected wetlands.

An environmental impact assessment of the project would take three years to complete, while the kind of sprawling multipurpose integrated resort the central government has in mind would take another four to five years to build.

The Japanese government said it will begin considering bids in 2021, which means the viability of the Hokkaido project could not be confirmed in time, which would pose an impediment to its chances.

Even if the government were prepared to cut the prefecture some slack, the project would be unlikely to be completed before 2028, which could equate to millions in tax revenues.

Meanwhile, a group of concerned Hokkaido citizens has submitted a petition against the casino that has been signed by 20,000 locals.

The results of a poll published Monday showed that 66 per cent of respondents said they had serious concerns about the project.

“An integrated resort in Hokkaido which would co-exist with nature has big potential. But I thought it would be impossible for us to give due consideration to the environment in the limited period of time before the government selects the locations,” Suzuki conceded last Friday.

Regional and city governments are required to partner with one private casino operator via an open tender process before submitting a joint integrated proposal to the central government.

So far, eight municipal and regional governments have either committed to or expressed interest in submitting a bid, including Osaka, Yokohama, Tokyo, Wakayama prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture.

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