Yokohama drops out of Japan's integrated resort race after electing anti-casino mayor

Experts think Japan's casino market could be worth as much as US$25 billion (S$34 billion). PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO - The race to host one of Japan's three allowed integrated resorts (IRs) is down to three municipalities, barring any surprises, after Yokohama picked an anti-IR candidate for its mayor on Sunday (Aug 22).

Municipalities keen to host IRs - mega-complexes with casinos, hotels, shopping malls, entertainment facilities and exhibition spaces - will have from October till April next year to submit their proposals. The first IRs are due to launch by around 2027.

Yet the plan has been domestically controversial over fears that IRs may fuel gambling addiction, though experts think Japan's casino market could be worth as much as US$25 billion (S$34 billion).

Only four municipalities - Yokohama, Osaka, Wakayama and Nagasaki - had been working on their bids, a lengthy process that involves canvassing for casino operators and other stakeholders in drawing up concrete proposals.

With Yokohama's dropout, Toyo University tourism management expert Kazuaki Sasaki told The Straits Times: "The only IR to be in a metropolitan area will be Osaka. I don't think other regions will be in time, given the tight schedule."

Osaka is supporting a consortium led by Las Vegas' MGM Resorts International and Japan's financial services group Orix for an IR on the city's Yumeshima island. The consortium will spend 1 trillion yen (S$12.4 billion) on the project, which will include a 100,000 sq m hotel facility with between 2,000 and 2,500 rooms.

Wakayama has selected a subsidiary of Canada's Clairvest Group, which runs casinos in Canada, the United States and Chile. The firm has devoted an initial investment of 470 billion yen for a 569,000 sq m site including a luxury hotel with 2,700 rooms.

Nagasaki on the south-west island of Kyushu, meanwhile, is working with Casinos Austria for an IR to be built in Sasebo, where the Huis Ten Bosch theme park is located. The bid has the support of Kyushu's seven prefecture governors, with construction expected to cost up to 460 billion yen.

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