National

Hokkaido officially pulls out of casino resort bidding over environmental concerns

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Gov. Naomichi Suzuki formally announced Friday that Hokkaido would pass on bidding for an integrated casino resort — at least for now.

“I judged it impossible to give appropriate consideration toward the natural environment in a limited amount of time. When the time is right, we’ll make preparations to bid,” Suzuki told the prefectural assembly Friday morning.

The central government is expected to officially receive resort bids from interested localities between January 2021 and July 2021, but that requires local political and business support and a detailed proposal. In addition to casinos, integrated resorts will require food, lodging, and shopping and entertainment facilities, as well as convention centers and trade exhibition halls.

Three locations in Hokkaido had expressed interest. Tomakomai, about 30 to 40 minutes from New Chitose Airport by train, was the favored site.

Late last month, the Tomakomai Municipal Assembly passed a resolution of support for an integrated casino resort, but local opposition to the project on environmental grounds — as well as worries about the negative social effects of casinos, including the potential for a rise in gambling addiction — remained strong.

Hokkaido’s decision to bow out of the casino race leaves at least four other areas of the country that have expressed interest in a bid or have already made progress in their plans. The city that’s virtually a sure bet to win one of the first three resorts, local officials and casino executives in the region say, is Osaka.

Efforts have been underway for years to open a complex on Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay that will host the 2025 World Expo.

“I’m not concerned about what’s happening elsewhere. All we’re going to do is continue to advertise Osaka’s superiority as a location and work to win a permit for a resort,” Mayor Ichiro Matsui told reporters Thursday after reports of Hokkaido’s decision to withdraw began to emerge.

After Osaka, however, things get a bit murky. Officials in Yokohama and resort operators have shown interest, but there is strong local opposition. In Nagasaki Prefecture, support for a resort among local politicians and businesses is growing, with proponents saying the prefecture’s easy access to the rest of East Asia would draw a lot of foreign customers.

Wakayama Prefecture has also entered the casino race with plans to build an integrated resort on an artificial island in Wakayama city harbor. Unlike neighboring Osaka, Wakayama officials want something small in scale, and they tout the city’s access to Kansai International Airport, which is 40 minutes to an hour by train from Wakayama Station, as an advantage.

Last week, Wakayama Prefecture announced that if it were selected by the central government as a casino resort site, it would purchase the necessary land for a sum of ¥7.7 billion. However, there are still differences of opinion between the city of Wakayama and the prefecture. The mayor believes any casino should be only for foreign nationals, while the prefecture favors allowing Japanese to enter as well.