Wakayama throws its hat into Japanese casino ring

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Small Japanese city throws its hat into integrated resort bid

A Japanese prefecture is considering lodging an integrated resort bid, but said it must focus on wellness and nature.

Wakayama lawmakers want their integrated resort to embody a healing apparatus.

In explaining the specifics of its integrated resort and what features interested bidders would be smart to include, Wakayama officials want the development to incorporate natural elements of the city.

Wakayama’s integrated resort implementation policy urges casino consortiums to prepare bids to implement the waterfront, hot springs and local culture into the resort plans.

“Nature-based activity tourism is a leading trend in tourism globally,” Wakayama’s Fundamental Concept of integrated resort policy declares.

“Wakayama has great potential as a tourist destination with its wide variety of recreation, blessed with a long coastline, deep mountains and many rivers, almost every kind of experience-type tourism is possible,” the request-for-proposal explains.

Wakayama is a small prefecture and city and its population has been declining for a quarter of a century.

Since 2010, Wakayama has been the only prefecture in the Kansai region with fewer than one million residents.

While global casino operators interested in building in Japan prefer investing in major cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama or Osaka, Japan lawmakers legalised commercial gambling in an effort to spur economic growth in struggling cities.

Wakayama certainly meets that criteria.

Wakayama leaders say they’re in the casino bidding process for three primary reasons” job creation, economic development and tourism promotion.

City officials have offered up an approximately 50-acre plot of land in the Wakayama Marina City.

The location is roughly a 60-minute train or car ride from Osaka.

The resort will not be a casino-first destination.

The Wakayama government says the casino should be a minor element of the complex, with the gaming floor limited to three per cent of the total integrated resort space.

Proposals should offer diverse tourist attractions, the policy mandates.

Wakayama outlines hotel features 

That includes sailing, surfing, fishing, diving, golf, rafting and a spa.

The hotel should offer 2,500 high grade guestrooms and a convention centre measuring at least 50,000 square metres.

Wakayama wants to make sure a commercial casino does not result in societal harm to its residents, a notion the central government also considered during its legalising of gambling.

The national government requires that the three forthcoming casinos levy US$29 entrance fee on Japanese residents. 

Locals are also limited to three visits a week or 10 times a month.

Entry into the Wakayama casino for nationals will be even costlier, as the prefecture is adding an additional $29 charge.

Residents are only permitted to gamble with cash, as they won’t be able to access funds through credit card transactions.

If Wakayama and its selected casino bid successfully wins one of the three integrated resort licences, prefecture leaders say the development would be expected to open in 2026.

Hong Kong’s Suncity group is the leading interested party in Wakayama.

The casino firm is led by chief executive officer Alvin Chau, who made his fortune operating VIP junket groups in Macau.

Foreigners’ gambling winnings to be tax exempt in Japan

The adjustments to the Japanese tax system when casinos grace the country has been explained by the Japanese tax commission.

Inside Asian Gaming reported in December that tax commission chairman AkiraAmari said the government’s tax system will be adjusted so that “winnings” earned in an integrated resort’s casino would be tax exempt for foreign visitors to Japan.

“It should be fine to employ the method of tax exemption based on international standards,” Amari said.

“If no one comes to an IR we develop then it will all be pointless.

“We need to keep with international norms.”

It is expected this direction will be reflected in the ruling party’s tax reform outline due on December 10.

There had previously been a proposal from the Ministry of Finance to tax casino winnings, a concept that was met with dismay by potential investors.

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