Wakayama governor speaks out after integrated resort withdrawal

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Wakayama governor speaks out after integrated resort withdrawal

The governor of a Japanese prefecture that has withdrawn from the country’s casino liberalisation integrated resort bid process has expressed disappointment at the decision.

Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka’s remarks come less than a month after the prefecture lawmakers voted 22-18 against a $3.6 billion integrated resort development.

The original concept came from a Canadian private equity firm that planned to bring in Caesars Entertainment to run the resort.

The 71-year-old governor said the prefecture’s withdrawal from Japan’s casino race will be costly to residents and the area’s economy.

“Losing out on this massive project and increasing residents’ annual income by 10 per cent each year is a severe hit,” he said.

Clairvest Neem Ventures, a subsidiary of Canadian-based firm Clairvest Group, was the sole bidder for Wakayama’s integrated resort undertaking.

That’s after Hong Kong-based Suncity Group withdrew amid a high-stakes scandal in China involving its founder, Alvin Chau.

Suncity withdrawal forced Wakayama to favour Clairvest

Wakayama had initially preferred the Suncity casino proposal but later adopted the CNV scheme.

The 22 Wakayama assembly persons who voted against the Clairvest-Caesars plan voiced concerns regarding the consortium’s ability to secure financing.

Though the Clairvest Group has ownership positions in three casino properties in North America, Clairvest has never developed and built such a large-scale integrated resort, one that was expected to run into the billions of dollars.

Nisaka wrote in his integrated resort response that Clairvest secured appropriate funding through Credit Suisse, a global investment bank that has long financed such major casinos.

Those in opposition contended that Credit Suisse had only agreed to the project in a non-binding letter that provided the bank with an escape clause.

Along with the claimed 10 per cent increase in annual income for Wakayama residents by way of thousands of better paying jobs, the governor said not coming to reality will wash away the projected $2.7 billion annual economic impact the destination would have created.

Mario Ho, one of the many sons of the late Stanley Ho, had agreed in principle with CNV to invest in the Wakayama integrated resort.

His late father held a monopoly on casino gambling in Macau for decades, until the early 2000s.

Nisaka said that Wakayama should reconsider another integrated resort development, as Mario Ho has expressed his continued interest in developing a casino.

“Mario Ho still hopes to pursue investment in an integrated resort in Wakayama,” the governor said.

“I hope to put this failure behind us and continue to see investment bids in order to keep Mario and other investors from giving up on Wakayama.”

Japan’s 2018 commercial gaming bill authorised as many as three integrated resort licences.

The central government fielded only two qualifying casino proposals during its bidding period that concluded on April 28, from Osaka and Nagasaki.

Casino games unveiled

Nine casino games have been permitted to operate inside Japan’s three future casinos.

Japan’s Casino Regulatory Commission has approved nine games, with traditional Japanese favourites such as pachinko, pachislot and mahjong notable exclusions.

The nine games within the draft regulations include 21 variants of games currently banned in Japan, but set to be legalised as part of the government’s integrated resort plans.

The nine games are two types of baccarat, four types of blackjack, eight types of poker, Sic Bo, craps, Casino War, money wheel and pai gow, plus electronic games.

The regulations also call for prior background checks on all major stakeholders and executives of casino and integrated resort operators to ensure “social credibility”.

This will include detailed investigations into criminal and financial records, as well as whether there are any links to organised crime.

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