Wakayama prefecture in IR race

By Noah Taylor Updated
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An official from Japan’s Wakayama prefecture has told GGR Asia that the local authority is “negotiating” with fresh private sector entities as potential partners for Wakayama’s tilt at hosting an integrated resort, as large scale tourism complexes with casinos are known in that country.

“We will not provide the name of the new operators and we are now negotiating with them.

“However, we do not know whether the operators are going to participate in the Wakayama RFP or not,” the representatives said in an email, referring to the local government’s anticipated request-for-proposal process.

A maximum of three integrated resorts will be permitted nationally in a first phase of the country’s gaming market liberalisation.

After selecting a private sector partner, eligible local governments will then need to apply, during the first seven months of 2021, to the national government for the right to have such a project.

The Wakayama prefectural government had previously noted to us that it aimed to launch in “late March or the beginning of April” an RFP to choose a private sector partner for its IR effort.

A number of potential suitors for Wakayama has already been identified.

Privately held casino junket backer Suncity Group, a market leader in the macau market, French gaming operator Groupe Lucien Barriere and Philippine casino investor Bloomberry Resorts all presented their respective integrated resort concepts for Wakayama at a local government hosted symposium in August last year, the local government representative noted to us.

“We are considering if those three companies can commit to the integrated resort concept and it’s up to them to decide whether they will participate in the Wakayama RFP or not.

“No one will know the result until the end,” the representative said,

The withdrawal of Hokkaido prefecture from the national race for an IR might present new opportunities for Wakayama and its upcoming RFP process, the representative noted to us.

Hokkaido had previously been courted by a number of private sector investors, although Wakayama did not give any commentary on whether any of those firms might now be in discussions with it.

The Wakayama government also gave us some more information in a gambling harm mitigation initiative it had proposed for any local scheme.

The “IR card”, would be issued to all Japanese nationals that might wish to gamble at a Wakayama resort.

Such local patrons would only be able to place wagers via the card, and would need to load it with a cash value, setting a maximum amount for the player’s betting budget, the prefectural government explained.

The concept of the IR card was to “prevent over betting” and help reduce the number of local players that might potentially risk becoming pathological gamblers.

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.

Casino.org reported that 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.

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