BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER
OSAKA – Japan’s long-running mission to get casino resorts off the ground has been delayed not only because of the coronavirus but also due to related political scandals and public opposition.
As Yokohama prepares for a mayoral election on Aug. 22, it and other localities hoping for a casino resort are moving forward with plans to formally finalize their proposals, which the central government will accept from October until April 28, 2022. A maximum of three locations for the so-called integrated resorts (IR) — which combine casinos with hotels and other facilities — will then be formally announced sometime after May.
Here’s a look at the current situation regarding the four municipalities with the most advanced preparations:
Late last month, Yokohama City Hall opened an exhibition showcasing design concepts from the two operators bidding for the IR. Yokohama has not disclosed whose concepts were on display at the exhibition. But Genting Singapore and Macau’s Melco Resorts & Entertainment have publicly expressed a desire to bid for a casino project in the city. The display at the city’s Yamashita Pier included images and architectural models and ran until Saturday.
Genting Singapore, said by gaming industry publications to have the edge in the race, has included Sega Sammy Holdings, Kajima Corp., Takenaka Corp. and Obayashi Corp. as its partners, along with Alsok, a security services firm. Melco, which also pursued an Osaka IR project, only to drop out and cede the race to a consortium led by MGM Resorts and Orix Corp., has partnered with Taisei Corp., a construction and engineering firm.
Details of the firms’ proposals have not yet been publicly released, but the winner is expected to be decided this summer.
The city of Wakayama’s port district is the location for a proposed IR. Last month, the prefecture formally selected Clairvest Neem Ventures, a subsidiary of Canadian private equity management firm Clairvest Group Inc., as the operator partner. Clairvest has promised an initial investment of ¥470 billion.
The plan is to build a casino resort at Wakayama Marina City, a 40 minute drive from Wakayama Station. It would include international conference and exhibition halls and luxury hotels with a total of 2,700 rooms. The entire facility would be 569,000 square meters, while the casino facility would be 38,000 square meters.
Prefectural officials are pushing a Wakayama resort not only as a center for business meetings, but also as a venue for high-level international political events and place for remote working while on vacation. Wakayama plans to open it in fall 2027.
The Wakayama proposal has the strong backing of local business and political leaders, as well as powerful LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, who represents a Wakayama district in the Diet. Clairvest expects the resort to create 14,000 jobs and draw about 13 million visitors annually, including about 3 million from abroad. Wakayama Station lies about 40 minutes from Kansai Airport, and the firm hopes inbound and outbound tourists will make a side trip to the resort.
Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka are supporting a consortium led by America’s MGM Resorts International and Orix, which are proposing to build a casino resort in Osaka bay on the city’s Yumeshima artificial island. The resort plan, which calls for a ¥1 trillion initial investment, includes a hotel facility of at least 100,000 square meters with between 2,000 and 2,500 rooms, as well as a 20,000 square meter exhibition hall that can hold up to 6,000 people.
In a key concession to city demands, the consortium will also pay ¥20 billion for needed transportation infrastructure upgrades, including part of the cost of extending a city subway line out to Yumeshima.
Osaka officials originally hoped that an IR could open by 2025, as Yumeshima is also the site of the Osaka-Kansai Expo which takes place that same year.
Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui originally wanted the subway line extension completed by then, and for an IR operator to fund it. But slowness on the part of the central government in getting the necessary legislation passed, followed by the outbreak of the coronavirus, led to scheduling delays that meant the 2025 completion target had to be abandoned.
The current plan calls for Osaka to officially designate MGM and Orix, the only bidder for an Osaka resort, as its choice by September. A former proposal will be submitted after that, and Osaka hopes to open the facility in 2028.
Unlike Osaka and Wakayama, where local governments have already chosen who they want to partner with for an IR, Nagasaki has three candidate operators whose proposals are being considered. One is from the Oshidori Consortium, led by Oshidori International Development, which, in turn, is part of Oshidori International Holdings Inc., a Hong Kong entity. Casinos Austria and NIKI Chyau Fwu (Parkview) Group, a Japan-Taiwanese consortium, are also submitting bids. The winner is expected to be decided this month.
The prefecture wants an IR to be built in Sasebo, home to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park. It would include a convention center accommodating between 6,000 and 12,000 people and an exhibition facility with 20,000 square meters of space. Nagasaki estimates construction to cost between ¥350 billion to ¥460 billion, and that between 6.9 million and 9.3 million people would visit annually.
The Nagasaki bid has the support of Kyushu’s seven prefectural governors, as well as the Kyushu business community. In April, a group of local governments and economic federations formed a Kyushu casino resort lobby group. Yutaka Aso, chairman of Aso Cement in Fukuoka Prefecture and the younger brother of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, heads the organization.
After choosing an operator this month, Nagasaki will submit its proposal to the central government by next April’s deadline. The land at Huis Ten Bosch will be turned over to the operator in 2023, and the prefecture hopes the facility will be up and running by the latter half of the decade.