Japanese cities show best hand in bid to win approval for casinos

Japanese cities show best hand in bid to win approval for casinos
People attending the “Japan casino creation summit” “gamble” in a mock casino at a hotel in Otaru, Hokkaido.

A broad coalition of ruling and opposition parties is seeking to submit legislation to the Diet that would lift the ban on casinos in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Aware of the direction the political winds are blowing, several municipalities around the country have launched campaigns to attract casinos to their areas, hoping for an economic boost.

Casinos are currently prohibited by the Penal Code. A new law would provide the legal foundation for casinos that are part of “integrated resorts,” which also include hotels, commercial facilities, and other functions.

If passed, the nation’s first casinos could open before the 2020 Olympics, which supporters say would bring a variety of positive economic effects, including promoting investment and increasing tourism.

Hokkaido’s 3 candidates

Three Hokkaido cities have thrown their hats in the casino-hosting ring—Kushiro, Otaru and Tomakomai.

“All of them have great potential for residential tourism,” said an official of the Hokkaido government, which is supporting casino initiatives from all three cities.

However, since only a few casinos will likely be allowed nationwide, the competition in Hokkaido could get fierce.

Otaru hosted a “Japan casino creation summit” in October, with a symposium attended by representatives of local governments and businesses from all over the country, as well as a mock casino.

The city included funds for projects related to attracting a casino for the first time in its budget this fiscal year, which was used to pay for the summit.

With an eye on his other Hokkaido rivals, Mayor Yoshiharu Nakamatsu said, “If we don’t move now, we’ll never make it.”

Kushiro was the first of the three cities to proclaim it wanted a casino. The local chamber of commerce is leading the charge to attract a casino to Lake Akan hot springs.

People involved have travelled to Hong Kong and Macao to observe an established casino industry and get a basic idea of the facilities.

Tomakomai boasts of the convenience of its location—near New Chitose Airport and Tomakomai Port—compared to Otaru and Kushiro. (By Masayuki Tanaka, Hokkaido bureau)

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