Hokkaido pulls out of Japanese IR race

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Wakayama prefecture in IR race

An avalanche of developments from mayors in Japan and gaming and hotel operators across the world greeted Japan’s announcement of its official timeline for prefectures and cities to apply for an integrated resort licence.

Calvin Ayre reports that Hokkaido, whose governor has decided it is no longer a goal worth pursuing, were more considered.

Connecticut casino operator Mohegan Sun showed its commitment to partnering with the prefecture on a resort project last month, opening an office in the city of Tomakomai.

Caesars and Hard Rock were also courting the prefecture.

Hokkaido’s governor, Noamichi Suzuki, hoped to build an environmentally friendly casino in Tomakomai, close to New Chitoise Airport.

But he conceded last Friday that the research necessary to pull off such a project would take too long and did not fit with the central government’s timelines.

Hokkaido is Japan’s largest and most northerly prefecture, comprising the entirety of the country’s second-largest main island.

According to Kyodo News, locals have expressed concerns about the impact construction would have on the ecology of the nearby Lake Utonai and the surrounding area, which is on a list of international protected wetlands.

An environmental impact assessment of the project would take three years to complete, while the kind of sprawling multipurpose integrated resort the central government has in mind would take another four to five years to build.

The Japanese government said it will begin considering bids in 2021, which means the viability of the Hokkaido project could not be confirmed in time, which would pose an impediment to its chances.

Even fi the government were prepared to cut the prefecture some slack, the project would be unlikely to be completed before 2028, which could equate to millions in tax revenues.

Meanwhile, a group of concerned Hokkaido citizens has submitted a petition against the casino that has been signed by 20,000 locals.

The results of a poll published Monday showed that 66 per cent of respondents said they had serious concerns about the project.

“An integrated resort in Hokkaido which would co-exist with nature has big potential. But I thought it would be impossible for us to give due consideration to the environment in the limited period of time before the government selects the locations,” Suzuki conceded last Friday.

Regional and city governments are required to partner with one private casino operator via an open tender process before submitting a joint integrated proposal to the central government.

So far, eight municipal and regional governments have either committed to or expressed interest in submitting a bid, including Osaka, Yokohama, Tokyo, Wakayama prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture.

They’re currently being courted by numerous international operators, all desperately seeking to buy a piece of what could quickly become the second-biggest casino market in the world.

The government is asking that prospective integrated resorts include a hotel larger that existing luxury hotels in Tokyo, a convention space capable of accommodating 3,000 people and a casino floor that represents no more than three per cent of the entire facility.

Melco shifts Japanese resort ambitions

Casino operator Melco Resorts & Entertainment is shifting its Japanese integrated resort ambitions away from Osaka to Yokohama, following the lead of some of its rivals.

Calvin Ayre reported in September that Wednesday Melco Resorts and Entertainment chief executive officer Lawrence Ho announced that his company was adopting a “Yokohama first” strategy for its plan to acquire a Japanese integrated resort licence.

Ho said the company is choosing to “focus on creating an integrated resort in Yokohama city the likes of which the world has never seen.”

Ho called Melco Resorts and Entertainment “a suitable partner” that would assist Yokohama in establishing itself as “an international tourist destination.”

Melco Resorts opened an office in Yokohama earlier this month, and its new Yokohama focus means it is abandoning a plan for an integrated resort project in Osaka.

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