Shinzo Abe (pictured), whose government had supported the policy of introducing casino complexes or integrated resorts (IRs) to Japan, resigned on Friday as the nation’s prime minister, citing health concerns.
“Even though there is one year to go in my tenure and there are challenges to be met, I have decided to stand down as prime minister,” said Mr Abe at a Tokyo press conference. He also apologised to the Japanese people for being unable to fulfil his duties during the pandemic.
Mr Abe is nonetheless Japan’s longest-serving premier.
Japanese national Joji Kokuryo, managing director of Bay City Ventures Ltd, a Japan-based marketing consultancy, told GGRAsia on Saturday, that fears of the country’s IR policy “disappearing” with the resignation of Mr Abe, were in his view, “premature”.
He acknowledged however, that a change of national leadership was likely to add to the time needed for realising IRs.
So far, the only certainties were that “the IR Implementation Act has been enacted… the political majority [in parliament] will not change any time soon…. [and] we have seen in the past that when the prime minister changes in Japan, there is ample time needed to set and reconfirm a direction for all of the country’s policies,” stated Mr Kokuryo.
The consultant has management experience in the gaming industry, including a stint in the Macau market. He is also a founding member and technical advisor for the International Gaming Standards Association Japan.
Casino industry consultant Ben Lee, managing partner of IGamiX Management and Consulting Ltd, told GGRAsia on Friday, that in his view, Mr Abe’s departure “essentially resets the IR initiative in Japan, until such time as a new leader has come in, and we are informed of the new leader’s disposition towards integrated resorts.”
Mr Lee said he defined “reset” as meaning “pause and rethink”. “Bear in mind the IR initiative has up until now, not been seen as a domestic vote winner, based on public opinion polls,” he added.
Mr Abe’s term of office was due to run until September next year.
Speculation about the Japanese leader’s health had risen, after he made two visits to a hospital recently. He has colitis, a chronic disease of the digestive system. Mr Abe said during Friday’s press conference, that he had successfully controlled the condition for eight years, but that in June a medical check-up had revealed concerns.
Hurdles, succession question
Japan’s casino initiative has faced a number of hurdles, even with Mr Abe at the helm of government, notably the Covid-19 pandemic, that has brought into focus the issue of when the national authorities would announce their so-called ‘basic policy’ on IRs.
Several local governments interested in hosting a resort have respectively said they have paused their effort to apply to have one, until the central government makes clear all the conditions for the application process.
Up to three casino resorts were to be permitted in a first phase of liberalisation in Japan.
“Shinzo Abe’s resignation is a significant setback to Japan in general and to the IR industry in particular,” said casino-sector consultant Niall Murray, in response to GGRAsia’s request for comment.
Mr Murray, a former senior executive in the Macau and Las Vegas markets, and chairman of Murray International Group, added: “For decades Abe has spearheaded the effort to formulate and pass the IR legislation…”
He added: “Without Abe at the helm, it might prove difficult to find a leader with the same determination, conviction and ability to take the steps necessary to bring the Japanese IR industry dream to life.”
Mr Murray further stated that in any case, “there will be significant delays to the IR development process” following Mr Abe’s departure.
There had already been headwinds linked to “Covid-19, the economic downturn, the rescheduling of the Olympics, and the inevitable reshuffling of government priorities in light of current circumstances,” noted the consultant.
There would need to be “strong succession and contingency plans in place” to cope with Mr Abe’s departure.
Without such plans, “the consequences could be grave” for the outlook of the IR sector in Japan, said the consultant.
(Updated, 1.40pm, Aug 29)
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