BY ERIC JOHNSTON
OSAKA – Despite a tight construction schedule, political problems in Tokyo and local concerns over funding, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui said the prefecture could have one of Japan’s first casino resorts up and running on an island in Osaka Bay nearly two years before it hopes to host the 2025 World Expo at the same site.
With the Cabinet expected to approve legislation Friday on integrated resorts including casinos, and Osaka stepping up international lobbying efforts to win the 2025 World Expo, the governor told reporters Wednesday that Diet debate over political scandals related to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would not unduly delay passage of the bill.
“Discussion of the legislation has been delayed a little bit, but discussion on the contents of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito bill has now wrapped up. So it will be passed in the Diet. Under that assumption, we want to realize a casino resort in fiscal 2023, or by 2024 at the latest,” Matsui said.
Up to three locations nationwide will receive approval for an integrated casino resort if the bill passes. The multistage process involves obtaining national authorization for a bidder’s casino plans and approval by the local assemblies for project-related funding, such as improved transportation infrastructure. When that is settled, actual construction can begin.
“If the bill becomes law as quickly as is possible, we’ll promptly draw up a schedule to open up the facility,” Matsui added.
The rush to have a casino resort up and running by fiscal 2023 on the man-made Yumeshima island is also based on hopes that Osaka will be awarded the 2025 World Expo when the decision is made in November by the 170 member Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions.
However, Osaka faces stiff competition from Ekaterinburg, Russia and Baku, Azerbaijan. The Russian city could pose a particular challenge for Osaka’s hopes, as it barely lost the 2020 Expo bid and is expected to do well among more than 50 African delegates to the BIE.
With that in mind, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura and local corporate heads will travel to South Africa on Tuesday to participate in the Japan-Africa Public-Private Economic Forum.
“The BIE judged the Expo bids of Russia and Azerbaijan as highly as they did Osaka’s bid. We’re running neck-and-neck. African countries have nearly 50 votes — about one-third of the BIE’s total votes. So as a local government, we’re going to Africa along with central government representatives and the business community to promote the Osaka bid,” Yoshimura tweeted last week.
The forum will also include representatives from the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), Yamaha Motor Co., Toshiba Corp. and Marubeni Corp.