Osaka – With the Diet focused on responding to the worsening spread of COVID-19, the timeline for the central government to approve the nation’s first casino resorts has been thrown into doubt.
Plans still officially call for proposals to be submitted by interested local governments between January and July 2021, and for three of the so-called integrated resort projects to be approved after that. But given the economic damage already incurred worldwide from the pandemic, and the uncertainty over how long it will last, it’s unclear whether that schedule can still be kept.
Osaka, considered the front-runner for one of Japan’s first three casino resorts, recently announced it was extending its window for proposals for three months. The extension came after a consortium led by MGM Resorts International and the financial conglomerate Orix Corp. — the only group so far to bid — made the request due to the impact of the virus on MGM’s casinos in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Osaka’s revised schedule now calls for land on the city’s waterfront property of Yumeshima to be turned over to the winning bidder in spring 2022, six months later than originally planned. The 2025 Osaka Kansai Expo is set to take place on Yumeshima between April and October that year.
Osaka originally wanted a resort to open during the Expo. But following the extension request, the prefecture now says it wants one to open by no later than March 2027.
“There’s only three years between the time we plan to turn over the property and the opening of the Expo, so opening even part of a casino resort would be difficult,” said Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura when he announced the delay last week.
In neighboring Wakayama, however, officials still hope to have their own casino open in the city of Wakayama in spring 2025, just as the Osaka Expo opens. The prefecture has begun accepting proposals from interested parties and established a proposal review committee at the end of March.
The committee plans to select a proposal by November, then have the central government approve it by autumn 2021 and have it open by spring 2025.
At least that’s the current plan.
“For the moment, the central government says its schedule (for next year) isn’t changing,” said Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka at a Monday news conference. “If that’s the case, unless we start the request for the proposal process we won’t be on time — so we are proceeding. But if the central government’s schedule changes, we’ve said we’ll adjust.”
Takashi Kiso, CEO of Japan’s International Casino Institute, said that while there has been no announcement yet from the Diet or government about revising next year’s schedule for accepting proposals for the integrated resorts, the situation this year and next will make it difficult for everyone to stick to the original plan.
“The Tokyo Olympics are postponed until next summer, and plans for a general election by October 2021 are greatly in flux due to the coronavirus outbreak,” he said. “In this situation, there are a lot of people for whom the January to July 2021 IR certification application period will be extremely inconvenient.”
Kiso added, “Local governments and integrated casino resort operators who are dealing with the shock of the coronavirus in their home countries will find it very difficult to move their preparations (in Japan) forward. The Japanese government should revise the application period.”
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