Japanese lawmaker sentenced for casino proposal bribery

By Mia Chapman Updated
Small Japanese city throws its hat into integrated resort bid

A Japanese lawmaker has found himself in hot water for taking bribes over the Hokkaido integrated resort proposal.

GGR Asia reports that lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto has been given a prison sentence after being found guilty of receiving bribes over a previously proposed casino scheme in the prefecture.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Mr Akimoto, a member of the lower house in Japan’s parliament, to four years in prison, without suspension, and a fine of US$68,300, according to local media.

Japan’s public prosecution had asked for the lawmaker to be slapped with a five-year prison term.

Mr Akimoto was found guilty of receiving bribes worth 7.5 million Japanese yen from Masahiko Konno and Katsunori Nakazato, described as advisors for Chinese firm 500.com.

The latter was one of a number of companies interested in bidding for a licence for a gaming complex scheme in Hokkaido.

A total of three casino resorts, referred to in Japan as integrated resorts, are to be permitted across Japan in a first phase of liberalisation.

Mr Akimoto had reportedly served as a vice minister in charge of promoting the establishment of casinos in the country.

In October 2020, the Tokyo District Court found Mr Konno and Mr Nakazato guilty of bribing Mr Akimoto and sentenced them to suspended prison sentences.

The judge in that process, Toshihiko Niwa said the pair were given information relevant to the casino liberalisation process, “as a result of extravagant wining and dining” of Mr Akimoto, a former member of Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party.

The governor of Hokkaido decided in November 2019, prior to news breaking regarding the bribery allegations, not to propose the prefecture as a candidate site in an initial phase of casino liberalisation in the country.

Casino operator selection process draws to a close in Wakayama

Wakayama prefecture governor Yoshinobu Nisaka announced that Clairvest Neem Ventures, a subsidiary of Canadian investment firm Clairvest Group, had been selected to proceed with the prefecture’s bid.

This makes Clairvest the first integrated resort operator partner to be announced among the four regions known to be pursuing one of three integrated resort licences to be issued by Japan’s national government, the others being Osaka, Yokohama and Nagasaki.

The prefecture is hoping to open its facility in spring 2026 although Clairvest has proposed autumn 2027.

According to published information, Clairvest’s integrated resort concept is based on a theme of “land of wood and a land of water” with nature at its core.

The total floor area would be about 569,000 square metres, of which a casino facility will cover around 38,000 square metres.

Notably, Clairvest has proposed an investment of US$4.3 billion versus U$2.6 billion suggested by Wakayama under its fundamental concept.

Both the scale of the investment and target number of visitors put forward by Clairvest are much larger than Wakayama’s own estimations.

The integrated resort is planned to be built on an artificial island called Wakayama Marina City.

The selection of Clairvest comes after Suncity Group withdrew from the race, citing an uncertain global business environment.

It was recently revealed that Suncity had in fact scored higher than Clairvest based on the selection committee’s initial assessment.

Their absence had sparked suggestions Wakayama may itself withdraw from the Japanese integrated resort race, but after deciding to name Clairvest as its partner, the Governor said: “We can take the next step with confidence. Moreover, we will probably be able to obtain national approval if we improve on the plan.”

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