Business

Chiba Prefecture businesses push for casino resort

by Maiko Takahashi

Bloomberg

The list of regions battling for a coveted spot for the development of casino resorts ranges from Osaka to Hokkaido. And you can add Mickey Mouse’s neighborhood to the list of possibilities.

Chiba Prefecture, home to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, is gaining attention, with proponents citing the area’s convention centers and Japan’s largest airport as selling points. While the area’s supporters, mostly a group of small local businesses, say strong resident support gives it an edge over high-profile destinations such as Yokohama, the local government has yet to come on board.

Chiba would join many other communities across Japan jockeying for position alongside operators such as MGM Resorts International and Las Vegas Sands Corp. as the nation inches toward legalizing casino gambling. The Diet is currently discussing a casino implementation bill, which will allow for three cities to host integrated resorts. Analysts estimate the industry could be worth as much as $25 billion.

The process has a long way to go, and it’s too early to gauge which regions will be chosen. Casino operators, likely accompanied by a coalition of Japanese partners, must first win endorsement of a regional government. They then will present a joint proposal to the central government in order to be considered for a license.

Osaka is among the early favorites to win a spot with Gov. Ichiro Matsui and Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura actively pushing to bring an integrated resort to the city. Hokkaido and Nagasaki are also contenders with proactive local governments.

The lack of such backing is a major hurdle for the Chiba effort.

While the Chiba Municipal Assembly in 2013 passed a resolution promoting integrated resorts in the area, its mayor has not yet made his position clear. A city representative said the government is doing research on integrated resorts from a neutral standpoint.

“The problem about Chiba is that it’s not clear what the local administration wants to do,” said Toru Mihara, a professor at the Osaka University of Commerce. “Chiba’s rivals will be cities around Tokyo. No one has officially raised their hand yet, but they will make their position clearer when a casino implementation bill passes.”

The backing of local residents could be a significant factor in a country where two-thirds of citizens oppose gambling because of the social impact. Yokohama was pushing for a resort, but backed away because many voters did not support gambling.

The main advocate for Chiba is a coalition formed a year ago by the heads of several local companies representing industries from health care to design. Their ultimate plan is to build a 534,000-sq.-meter (5.7-million-sq.-foot) floating island that is accessible to luxury cruise ships. Ikuo Kantake, president of the coalition, said the project would cost ¥64 billion and take two years to build.

The proponents see a natural synergy with Tokyo Disneyland in attracting tourists.

But don’t read anything into the group’s provisional name: The Future of Chiba MICE-IR. MICE is an industry acronym for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions, and has no connection with Mickey or Minnie.