Japanese IR Projects Get Backing of New PM Fumio Kishida

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Newly-appointed Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (pictured above) has reaffirmed the country’s commitment to its IR projects during his first inquiry in the House of Representatives. [Image:Shutterstock.com]

Kishida confronts doubters

A new leader has taken the helm in Japan, and that recently appointed Prime Minister has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to integrated resorts (IR).

took up office as Prime Minister on October 4

Fumio Kishida, leader of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, took up office as Prime Minister on October 4. He spoke to members of the House of Representatives during his first inquiry on Monday this week.

During that meeting, multiple House members raised concerns regarding the casino plans. For instance, Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Constitutional Democratic Party questioned the business model’s efficacy in a post-pandemic world. He also noted the increased risk of gambling addiction.

In response, Kishida described the integrated resort plans as “an important initiative for Japan to become an advanced tourism nation in the future.” He confirmed that officials intend to follow through with the necessary procedures as local governments prepare their applications.

A contentious issue in Japan

Kishida may have reaffirmed the country’s commitment to IRs, but the controversial projects have sparked debate in Japan since the legalization of casino gambling in 2018. IR backers claim that the new industry will re-invigorate the country’s economy, while opponents have raised ethical concerns with the gambling industry.

Attitudes towards Japan’s integrated resorts seem to have shifted in the political sphere over recent months. The former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga recently backed anti-casino candidates in several regions to help boost his popularity. In Yokahama, this resulted in Mayor Takeharu Yamanaka taking office and officially shelving the city’s IR plans.

Yokohama first announced plans to bid for an IR project in August 2019. As the selection process came to a close in June this year, the city had two potential partners for its project. This included Genting Singapore and Melco Resorts and Entertainment. Both expressed disappointment with the city’s decision to axe the plans.

Kishida’s victory has once again turned the tide in favor of IRs, with the Liberal Democratic Party repeatedly affirming its backing of the projects. In the past, Kishida has played a key role in pushing casino policies, including enacting the IR Implementation Bill in 2018.

The wheels are in motion

Yokohama’s exit means that as it stands, Osaka, Nagasaki, and Wakayama will get the nation’s three available casino licenses. Having chosen their respective operator partners, each local government will now prepare their applications and submit a bid to the national government by April 28 next year.

In August, Nagasaki officials selected Austrian operator Casinos Austria as their priority integrated resort partner. The company intends to develop a casino on a 30-hectare site at Huis Ten Bosch in Sesebo City. It beat two other contenders, including a Mohegan Sun consortium and Parkview Group.

estimated annual IR revenue of around $4.85bn

Meanwhile, the prefecture of Osaka has teamed up with an MGM Resorts International-led consortium for its own bid. The local government has estimated annual IR revenue of around $4.85bn, with the project requiring around $10bn of initial investment. It will sit on Yumeshima Island in Osaka Bay.

More recently, Caesars Entertainment announced it had rekindled its Japan casino hopes by partnering with Clairvest Neem Ventures. The Canadian private equity firm had already won the competition for Wakayama’s offering with its $4.3bn plan. The company set an opening date of Autumn 2027 for the development.

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