National

As Osaka basks in glow of successful 2025 Expo bid, economic concerns move to the forefront

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

After a night of celebrations in Osaka following Friday’s announcement in Paris that it had won the 2025 World Expo, Japanese leaders promised an event that would surprise the world, demonstrate that there is more to Japan than just Tokyo, and serve as an international laboratory for co-creation.

But as Osaka woke up Saturday to the news that it will again host the world 55 years after the 1970 Expo, one of the most successful ever with 64 million visitors, there were questions about costs and how winning the rights to hold it might affect another dream of local leaders: to host one of Japan’s first integrated casino resorts, and at the same location as the expo.

The decision by the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions means the city, prefecture, Kansai region, and the central government have less than 6½ years to prepare for the event, which will be held on Yumeshima, a man-made island in Osaka Bay.

The Expo 2025 Osaka-Kansai, Japan, as it’s written in the official English-language brochure because of the inclusion of neighboring cities and prefectures like Kyoto, Nara and Kobe in the bidding process, will kick off on May 3 of that year and finish on Nov. 3.

The theme — “Designing Future Society for Our Lives” — is expected to showcase advanced technologies, particularly in the fields of life science, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology.

Participating countries will present their ideas and innovations in these areas and emphasize how they contribute to the 2030 United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) in health and welfare, especially in lesser developed and aging societies.

“No one shall be left behind in pursuit of the SDG goals. (The 2025 Expo) will be a living laboratory for co-creation in order for us to together think about what is best to save, empower and connect our lives all across the world,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said following the announcement of Osaka’s victory.Beyond those lofty words and the afterglow of victory, the 2025 Expo faces a number of economic questions.

Construction costs have been estimated at ¥125 billion. The central government, the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments, and the private sector have each agreed to pay ¥40 billion.

But critics worry the ¥125 billion figure will rise while pointing to the spiraling costs of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The Board of Audit estimated last month that central government spending alone on the games has already topped ¥800 billion, more than seven times an earlier estimate.

Osaka has said the expo will draw 28 million visitors, bringing ¥2 trillion to the economy. That would be enough to more than cover the predicted costs, at least on paper.

In a congratulatory message early Saturday morning, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Osaka and Kansai it had national support, including from a financial standpoint, for the event.

“In order to realize a great expo, we’ll continue, along with Osaka and Kansai, to make utmost efforts under an ‘all-Japan’ system. This is an excellent chance to demonstrate Japan’s charms to the world, and I’m confident it will trigger local revitalization and an increase in the number of tourists visiting Japan,” Abe said.

In part to ensure those 28 million visitors have adequate access to Yumeshima, there are plans to extend a subway line out to the island and build a new station at an estimated cost of about ¥54 billion, a figure that is not calculated as an official expo expense. To cover as much as ¥20 billion of that cost, the Osaka governor and mayor are hoping to bring an integrated casino resort to the island for what they hope will be another source of revenue by 2025.

With the 2025 Expo now secured, Osaka’s leaders can turn their attention toward an integrated casino resort. International operators Melco Resorts and Entertainment and MGM Resorts International are considered the frontrunners for a casino license in Osaka.

The winner is expected to be decided sometime over the next six months and Osaka officials have expressed hope to have a casino in operation before the expo opens.

Any casino would likely be part of an integrated resort that would include hotels, shopping centers, and other facilities. Earlier this month, a joint prefectural and municipal committee suggested a resort on Yumeshima include an international conference center that could seat 5,000 people, double the capacity of Osaka’s current largest facility, and a 100,000-square-meter exhibition space, roughly the size of Tokyo’s Big Sight.

The scale of the casino and subway line extension means huge investments will be needed on the part of local taxpayers, the business community, and especially the casino resort operator. In the coming months and years, who will pay how much and for what will be a contentious economic and political debate in Osaka. But for now, the city and the Kansai region are basking in the hope that the 2025 World Expo will bring new prosperity.