Yokohama pushes ahead with casino plan

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
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A Japanese city council has rejected a campaign to initiate a referendum about whether residents of the city want an integrated resort complex in the city. reports that the Yokohama City Council has tossed aside a referendum effort that would have gauged public support for a casino.

The Japanese city is seeking the rights to build an integrated resort.

The Yokohama Citizens’ Group to Decide on a Casino successfully obtained more than the 62,500 signatures required to propose a ballot referendum, with more than 200,000 signatures certified.

The group believes commercial gambling is largely opposed by Yokohama people.

The referendum effort was designed to persuade lawmakers to consider public opposition of a casino resort.

The people’s voice will not be heard however, with the city council rejecting the proposed ballot referendum last week.

The 86-person council, the city’s legislative unit, is controlled by the Liberal Democratic Party, who wish to make Japan a more appealing leisure and tourism destination.

In Japan, referendums are not lawmaking vehicles as they are in the United States.

Instead, they are the public’s way of making their voices heard on pending legislative efforts.

When a referendum has the required public support by way of resident signatures, city councils are not required to approve the motion and put the question before voters.

And even when a referendum does make the ballot, results have no legal consequence, meaning if the casino question came back with a majority opposition, the city could nonetheless continue with its plan to bring an integrated resort to the region.

Yokohama mayor Fumiko HJayashi initially said she would support a valid referendum and urg the council to move it to the election booth.

But the mayor, also a LDP member, reversed course last week and said a referendum would only derail the city’s goal of winning one of three forthcoming integrated resort licenses.

Instead of allowing the referendum to progress, the Yokohama City Council voted to enter into its request for proposal phase and begin soliciting business plans from interested companies.

Melco Resorts is a leading candidate for the Yokohama development.

Once the city picks its partner, it and the Kanagawa prefecture will bid to the central government in hopes of winning one of the three licences.

Tokyo considers casino bid

As Yokohama pushes forward with its casino aspirations, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike announced in December that the country’s largest city is considering entering the running for a casino.

Japan’s basic policy on commercial gambling authorities three integrated resort properties.

The government wants to use the resorts to spur tourism throughout the country, which is why a casino in both Tokyo and Yokohama is unlikely as they are only kilometres away.

Tokyo has yet to formally announce its candidacy for an integrated resort, but if it does, casino operators will pounce.

The capacity city, home to more than 8.6 million residents, is the political and economic hub of Japan.

The adjustments to the Japanese tax system when casinos grace the country has been explained by the Japanese tax commission.

Inside Asian Gaming reported in December that tax commission chairman AkiraAmari said the government’s tax system will be adjusted so that “winnings” earned in an integrated resort’s casino would be tax exempt for foreign visitors to Japan.

“It should be fine to employ the method of tax exemption based on international standards,” Amari said.

“If no one comes to an IR we develop then it will all be pointless.

“We need to keep with international norms.”

It is expected this direction will be reflected in the ruling party’s tax reform outline due on December 10.

There had previously been a proposal from the Ministry of Finance to tax casino winnings, a concept that was met with dismay by potential investors.

Under the revised plan, Japanese locals would be taxed in a similar way to other public sports and horseracing, where income tax is taken if winnings exceed a certain amount.

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