Japanese residents cautious about casino industry

By William Brown Updated
Japanese residents cautious about casino industry

A recent survey conducted by a Japanese newsagency has found that 71 per cent of those polled in Japan believe their government should revisit plans to embrace integrated resorts, amid a cloud of bribery that has ensnared several politicians and a Chinese gaming company.

The poll found that 70.6 per cent of those queried want the Japanese government to launch a review.

Just 21 per cent of those polled believe the country’s plans to embrace casino gaming should proceed.

The Integrated Resorts Promotion Act was passed in Japan in 2016, setting the stage for legalised casinos.

However, swirling graft allegations have promoted some policymakers there to launch an opposition bill to IRPA, which is expected to be introduced on January 20.

A member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party Tsukasa Akimoto was arrested by the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s office on Christmas Day.

Akimoto, who directed Japan’s casino gaming policy from August 2017 to October 2018, is accused of taking cash, airfare and hotel rooms from 500.com, the Chinese online and sports betting firm at the centre of the scandal.

Japanese authorities believe Akimoto disbursed some of that cash to five other politicians in the country, and that the graft was intended to help 500.com land a license in Hokkaido Prefecture.

In November, Hokkaido’s governor, Naomichi Suzuki, withdrew the region from consideration for a gaming venue, citing environmental concerns.

Last week, Chiba mayor Toshihito Kumagai said his city is exiting the gaming venue competition, too.

The idea of reviewing Japan’s casino gaming aspiration comes as many there are concerned about the country’s economic outlook.

More than 86 per cent of the respondents surveyed by Kyodo News said they were “anxious” or “somewhat anxious” about the forecast for the world’s third-largest economy.

Lawmakers are hoping integrated resorts will boost tourism and Japan’s conference and meeting industries, which have fallen behind rival Asian nations.

The bribery scandal and subsequent negative sentiment that goes along with it arrived at a tricky time for Japan’s casino aspirations.

For example, opposition to integrated resorts remains in Yokohama, one of operators’ most preferred destinations.

The floor for a high-end gaming property in the country appears to be $10 billion, and could reach as high as $15 billion by some estimates.

Even at the low end of that range, a single Japanese integrated resort would be the most expensive venue of its kind ever built, and cost more than multiple Las Vegas Strip properties combined.

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 coexist 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.

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