OSAKA – In December, the central government finalized its basic policy for so-called integrated resorts (IRs), which house casinos, shopping centers, hotels and other facilities.
The decision means that municipalities interested in formally submitting their bid proposals will now have a clear timetable for when to do so and a better understanding of what they can and cannot do during the selection process.
The tendering process begins on October 1 and runs until April 28, 2022, if a maximum of three locations are selected.
What is the basic IR policy adopted in December?
The guideline consists of a set of basic standards for municipalities interested in submitting a bid proposal for their own local casino resort and an outline of the rules that local governments and interested casino operators must follow when preparing their offer.
Originally, the central government should decide the policy in January 2020. However, in December 2019 Liberal Democratic Party member of the lower house and casino supporter Tsukasa Akimoto was arrested in connection with a casino-related bribery scandal. Akimoto has since left the ruling LDP.
The novel coronavirus pandemic also forced casino operators to review their plans. Therefore, the government decided to revise the schedule for submitting IR project proposals, which was originally between January and July this year, in the new window.
The basic guideline sets the standards for determining the types of proposals that are approved. This includes the overall concept of the resort, which must not only include a casino area, but also plans for international convention centers, entertainment and shopping facilities, exhibition halls and hotels with internationally competitive rooms and services.
There are also fairly specific rules for the contact between national and local officials and the casino operators selected for project proposals. Face-to-face meetings with operators must take place in government buildings and be attended by several local officials who must report the meeting to their supervisors before and after the meeting.
Communication by telephone, email and fax with the operators must also be reported to their superiors by officials. The rules also state that records of meetings must be retained and retained for 10 years from the date a location was selected.
Which places are interested in building casino resorts?
Both Osaka City and Osaka Prefecture and Wakayama and Nagasaki Prefectures have announced detailed plans for local resorts and appear to have solid public support, or at least no strong local opposition.
Following the political decision in December, Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura said he hoped a decision could be made sometime this summer or fall on who Osaka would partner with to officially bid for an integrated resort.
But Osaka’s IR plans have taken a hit. A consortium led by MGM Resorts Japan, part of MGM Resorts International, is the only group that has formally expressed interest in an Osaka project. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted MGM Resorts’ bottom line and created uncertainty about Osaka’s plans.
Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui had hoped to open an IR by the Osaka Kansai World Expo in 2025. But even if a proposal is approved by Osaka next year, there won’t be enough time to open a casino resort.
In neighboring Wakayama Prefecture, plans for a casino resort in Wakayama Bay are running more smoothly.
On January 15th, the prefecture announced that two companies were bidding for an IR project. These include Suncity Group Holdings Japan Co. and Clairvest Neem Ventures. The Suncity Group is with the Macau-based Suncity Group Ltd. while Clairvest Neem Ventures is a unit of the Canada-based private equity management company Clairvest Group.
Wakayama will determine the winner this spring and, if it wins an offer next year, intends to open the resort in 2026.
Interest and political support for a casino resort in Nagasaki Prefecture are also quite high. The local authorities will tentatively decide which proposal the operator should adopt by early fall this year and hope to open the resort later in the decade.
What about Hokkaido and Yokohama?
In Hokkaido, Governor Naomichi Suzuki announced earlier this month that there was not enough time this year to resume negotiations on proposals for an IR.
In Tomakomai – not far from Shin Chitose, Hokkaido’s main international airport – there was interest in a casino resort to attract international tourists. In late 2019, however, Suzuki announced that Hokkaido would continue to bid for a casino resort at this point, leaving the possibility of a future offering open.
In Yokohama the situation is more controversial. The city intends to start accepting proposals in the next month for IR firms interested in applying for a local project. The winner is expected to be selected this summer.
With Yokohama and Osaka, Wakayama and Nagasaki, there are plans to build a resort on 43 hectares in Yokohama Bay. If approved, it could open sometime in the second half of this decade.
However, the move is controversial after the Yokohama township assembly rejected a petition earlier this month to hold a referendum on the application for an IR complex.
About 190,000 people signed the petition in support, but local authorities controlled by the LDP and Komeito voted against it. While incumbent mayor Fumiko Hayashi supports an offer, she faces re-election in August, where the IR debate is expected to be one of the main topics.
What is Tokyo up to?
Following the central government’s political decision in December, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike told the local media that there are advantages and disadvantages to running a casino resort, and that both of them need further debate due to the new central government guidelines.
However, compared to other locations, there has been very little preparation for an IR complex in Tokyo and the capital, which is now focused on the Tokyo Olympics, is not currently expected to come up with an offer for one of the top three Casinos throw their hats in the ring licenses.
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