Opponents to Yokohama casino don’t deter mayor 

By William Brown Updated
Yokohama committee opposed to casino referendum 

The mayor of a Japanese city in the running to host one of the country’s three integrated resorts said she is opposed to holding a local ballot to gauge public support for the city’s proposed casino.

Yokohama is one of four cities that plan to receive one of the three forthcoming casino permits, but in Yokohama, the second-largest city in Japan by population, many locals have voiced their opposition to bringing a commercial gambling destination to the region.

A coalition advocating for Yokohama to fold on its casino ambitions successfully garnered enough resident signatures to proceed with a ballot referendum.

Yokohama mayor Fumiko Hayashi said she will respect the will of the people if a referendum came back with a majority resistant to an integrated resort.

Just weeks after submitting the signatures, the mayor is altering her position.

Hayashi, who has held the title of mayor since August 2009, says a referendum will only further delay Yokohama from reaping the benefits of hosting a casino resort.

The legislative process in Japan can be lengthy and COVID-19 has only exacerbated that reality.

The delay has caused some global casino operators, most notably Las Vegas Sands, to lose interest in Japan.

Hayashi says the city should not cause additional slowdowns.

“A referendum means shelving the discussions that have occurred to date. Based on the discussions of the council, it is important to proceed steadily with the legal procedures,” the mayor said.

Along with delaying the casino path, Hayahsi said ballot referendums are expensive to conduct and are not legally binding outcomes in Japan, meaning the Yokohama government could still proceed with its casino intentions regardless of the ballot outcome.

With more than 62,500 signatures needed to present a ballot referendum to the Yokohama City Council, a representative of the Yokohama Citizens’ Group to Decide on a Casino will seek referendum approval at a council meeting on Thursday.

The city council consists of 86 members.

Yokohama a front runner to gain casino licence

Japan’s integrated resorts policy initially calls for three casino licences.

Osaka and Yokohama are viewed as the odds-on front-runners for two of the permits.

The other two cities that have publicly expressed their candidacy for a resort are Nagasaki and Wakayama.

However, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike revealed recently that the Japanese capital and most populous prefecture is mulling an entry.

If Tokyo indeed seeks an integrated resort, casino operators would likely favour building in the major global city.

Tokyo could also lengthen Yokohama’s odds, as it neighbours the capital metro.

Japan lawmakers initially envisioned its three casinos as being catalysts to increase tourism but also generate localised economic development across the country.

Hayashi says a casino could solve many of the city’s problems.

“You might think of Yokohama as this big, rosy city known for hosting a wide variety of events but every year we find ourselves saddled with deficits,” she said in 2020.

Japanese government to communicate directly with casino complexes ahead of casino liberalisation 

The Japanese government has updated its integrated resort policy, saying it would have a direct role in communicating with companies concerning the country’s push to have casino complexes.

GGR Asia reported in December that such liaison would be done via the central authorities’ integrated resort promotion headquarters.

Additionally, the country confirmed the national basic policy on integrated resorts, which was mostly the same as the draft made public last October.

A key update was the confirmation of the period in which the national government will be accepting integrated resort plans from local governments.

It will be between October 1, 2021 and April 28, 2022, a nine-month delay from a previously announced timetable.

The national government assumes the timing of integrated resort opening to be the late 2020s, taking into account the time needed for environmental assessment and construction.

Up to three such venues will be permitted in a first phase of liberalisation.

The Japan Tourism Agency created the draft and its acceptance at a meeting on Friday marks the official start of Japan’s integrated resort realisation process.

The agency is part of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

A number of international firms that already operate casinos resorts in other markets have recently pulled out of the race to build a casino resort in Japan.

They have cited factors including concerns about development costs, the possible scope of restrictive regulation and delays in local and national decision making, amid the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.

The latter has led to a sharp decline in core-market business for many foreign operators.

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