On Aug. 22, Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, 73, officially announced that Yokohama will bid to host a casino-featuring integrated resort (IR). On the following day, Yokohama Harbor Transport Association chairman Yukio Fujiki, an 89-year-old who is known as “Yokohama harbor’s kingpin,” expressed displeasure at Hayashi’s sudden policy change to bid for an IR after telling citizens that a plan to host an IR was still up in the air. He told the press, “She made me lose face.”
A source in the casino industry says: “Fujiki, who is known as the leader of Yokohama Port, initially said that he would promote casinos. But he is believed to have made an about-face after learning that potential casino operators need to undergo a thorough background check, including funding and personal connections, and that it’s difficult to take the initiative by disregarding overseas casino operators.”
Hayashi, who is currently serving her third term, was elected as Yokohama Mayor in 2009 after serving at such posts as chairperson of Daiei and executive officer of Nissan Motor. In response to the move of Fujiki, Hayashi’s influential supporter, she had been saying that a plan to invite an IR is “up in the air” since before the mayoral election in 2017. But she suddenly rose in revolt against him. A reporter at a local newspaper says: “Fujiki said at a press conference that it was Hayashi who made him lose face, and that he knew who made her do so. When reporters asked him whether the ‘mastermind’ was Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who was elected from Yokohama City and is dubbed the “shadow mayor,” Fujiki stopped short of specifying the person and said, ‘Suga is Abe’s henchman and Abe is Trump’s henchman.”
The aforementioned casino industry source deciphers Fujiki’s remarks as follows: “Prime Minister Abe attended a breakfast meeting hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce when he visited the U.S. for a summit with President Trump in 2017. Also at the meeting was Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who is a strong supporter of President Trump. In response to the announcement of Yokohama’s bid, Las Vegas Sands announced that it would shift the focus of its effort to open an IR with casino from Osaka to Yokohama and Tokyo. It is believed that a consortium of the U.S.’s MGM Resorts and [Japan’s] Orix is leading the effort to open an IR with casino in Osaka. Also, Las Vegas Sands wanted to avoid providing funding for public works projects, which Osaka prefecture and city require of a potential IR company. This would include, for example, partially paying the cost of extending a subway line. Many believe that the Prime Minister’s Office made a “preemptive move” and gave Yokohama a supportive push.”
During a press conference, Hayashi touched on her contact with Suga and said: “I sometimes meet him in my capacity as chairperson of the association of mayors of ordinance-designated cities. But we haven’t talked about an IR in detail.” She seemed a bit flustered when she gave her answer.
The aforementioned reporter of a local newspaper says: “TBS’s Hodo Tokushu news program on Aug. 24 aired footage taken through the opaque glass showing Hayashi throwing papers on the floor of the room she returned to after the press conference. Perhaps it was a press conference she didn’t really want to hold.”
A source connected to Yokohama City says the city is already a major battle ground for IR operators. The source says: “Hong Kong’s Melco Resorts has begun regional contribution activities, such as signing a sponsorship deal with Yokohama F Marinos, a football club in J. League, and volunteering to pick up trash. Also, Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment, which is believed to have close ties with LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, successfully sponsored a game between Yokohama F Marinos and Manchester City at Nissan Stadium in July.”
Who will gain ascendancy over Yokohama, which marks the 160th anniversary of the opening of its port this year, foreign casino operators or Yokohama’s kingpin? The crucial moment has arrived.