National

Hokkaido may fold its hand in the nationwide bid to host a casino resort

Kyodo

Hokkaido may fold its hand in the nationwide bid to host newly legalized casino resorts partly due to environmental concerns, government sources said Thursday.

Gov. Naomichi Suzuki is expected to announce a decision Friday to the Hokkaido assembly, according to the sources. Suzuki has said a decision on whether to set up a casino at a candidate site in Tomakomai would be made by the end of the year after some residents voiced concerns about the environmental impact of building a so-called integrated resort housing a large hotel and conference rooms.

Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the majority force in the assembly, and those close to them have not taken a clear position on the issue, with some cautious about Hokkaido hosting such a resort.

“We haven’t reached a conclusion yet. We’ll make a decision after due consideration,” Suzuki told reporters Thursday.

A citizens’ group opposing casino construction has collected some 20,000 signatures for a petition to the city government of Tomakomai.

While major Hokkaido business lobbies have shown support for the casino bid to promote the economy, a recent survey of residents by the prefectural government showed that two-thirds of respondents expressed worries over the possibility.

After laws to allow casino gambling cleared the Diet last year, Wakayama Prefecture, Nagasaki Prefecture, Osaka Prefecture together with the city of Osaka, and Yokohama have declared their candidacies to host a casino resort.

The central government plans to pick around three locations to host casino resorts after accepting formal applications between January 2020 and July 2021 from local governments together with resort operators selected through open recruitment.

Tokyo, the city of Chiba and Nagoya have also expressed interest in hosting a casino.

All 47 prefectures and 20 major cities are eligible to apply. The first group of successful candidates are expected to start operating their casinos in the mid-2020s.

Under the government’s requirements for such a resort, an operator will need a hotel larger than existing luxury hotels in Tokyo and a convention center capable of accommodating 3,000 people with a 60,000-square-meter exhibition space.

The government has said it will pick cities capable of attracting more foreign visitors to the country. Japan aims to draw 60 million tourists in 2030.

The government has pledged measures to address gambling problems including limited admission into the facilities by Japanese citizens.

Local concerns grew about resort construction at the Tomakomai candidate location due to its proximity to Lake Utonai, a wildlife sanctuary and a site on the Ramsar Convention list of internationally important wetlands.

It usually takes about three years to conduct an environmental impact assessment, raising questions about whether the Hokkaido government can complete it in time for an application.

The city assembly of Tomakomai passed a resolution last month backing the casino plan in hopes of creating new jobs and economic opportunities.