On casinos, Osaka moves forward as Yokohama steps back

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

As a Liberal Democratic Party team tasked with recommending policies for casino resorts met this week, leaders in Osaka and Yokohama displayed opposite reactions to the prospect of hosting such facilities.

On Wednesday, an LDP group began discussing a blueprint for the construction and operation of integrated resort (IR) facilities with casinos. The group is also taking up concerns about problem gamblers.

“The team was formed to discuss specific details on how IRs will be run as well as to come up with policies for dealing with concerns about an increase in gambling addicts,” LDP Policy Research Council chair Toshimitsu Motegi said at Wednesday’s meeting.

With polls showing strong public opposition to casinos due to fears of gambling addiction, money laundering and crime, the group has its work cut out for it. It’s expected to submit recommendations to the government by the end of March.

Despite the concerns, some local leaders are formulating grand strategies to win rights to host a casino resort. On Tuesday, Osaka Prefecture, the city of Osaka, the local tourism bureau and other organizations said they were joining forces.

From April, the Osaka governor and mayor, along with three influential business organizations and the head of the tourism bureau, will work to create a marketing strategy for a resort on Yumeshima island in Osaka Bay. Construction plans call for not only a casino but also a convention center, hotels, shopping facilities and a variety of exhibition halls.

But if Osaka’s political and business community is pushing hard to host an IR, Yokohama’s mayor appears to be having second thoughts.

Fumiko Hayashi, who previously said she favored hosting a casino resort as a way to spur economic growth, is now more cautious. Hayashi, who faces a tough re-election campaign this summer against a candidate opposed to casinos, said at a Wednesday news conference that it would be very difficult to formulate detailed IR plans.

“A policy to deal with gambling addiction problems is extremely important. This is what the city needs to first discuss. Hosting an IR facility is just one way to promote local economic growth,” she said.

A bill setting the rules for how IR facilities are to be managed is expected to be submitted to the Diet before the end of this year. But Hayashi said she could not see how the government would accomplish that goal.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, meanwhile, has said the ruling coalition could expect support from Nippon Ishin no Kai, the political party he heads, to get such a bill passed as quickly as possible.