A pair of candidates from rival parties, people that are expected to be front-runners for the respective posts of governor for Osaka prefecture and mayor of Osaka city in an April 7 election, pledged at a Monday meeting their commitment to the idea of a casino resort in Osaka, according to information gathered by GGRAsia’s Japan correspondent.
Incumbent governor Ichiro Matsui and incumbent mayor Hirohumi Yoshimura, of the Osaka Restoration Association, a localist movement, had long declared themselves unequivocally in favour of making a casino bid to the central government. They are standing again next month.
They resigned from their posts on March 8, with the aim of swapping jobs. Local media reported the aim was to use the polls they had triggered to gauge public support for the political grouping’s plan to merge the city and prefectural authorities.
But some commentators fretted that the plan might backfire for the Osaka Restoration Association – and for the city’s casino resort plan – if the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the grouping that holds the balance of power at national level, took control of those posts.
That was on the basis that there was not uniform support among LDP voters – and the parliamentary party and regional party structure – for the casino liberalisation policy. The national policy involves the construction of up to three large-scale casino resorts – referred to in Japan as integrated resorts or “IRs” in the first phase of opening the market.
The LDP is said to be fielding a strong ticket in Osaka, with Tadakazu Konishi, a former vice governor of Osaka prefecture, for the governor position, and Akira Yanagimoto, a former city council member of Osaka, standing for mayor.
The Osaka Restoration Association announced on March 14 its manifesto for the April polls, including the aspiration to “realise the Osaka IR in 2024″.
The LDP’s Mr Konishi said in a statement on Sunday that he was in “in favour” of having a casino resort in Osaka (pictured), but the process should be pursued “carefully”.
In mid February, United States-based casino operator MGM Resorts International – the parent of Macau operator MGM China Holdings Ltd – said it was pledging to work with the incumbent governor and mayor of Osaka prefecture and city respectively.
The Osaka Restoration Association has consistently voiced support for accommodating a casino resort on Yumeshima island, a land reclamation site, as a way to boost tourism to the region.
The island will also be the base for World Expo 2025. Osaka won in November the right to hold the event. A number of investment analysts think that accompanying infrastructure for the Expo will also be beneficial for a local casino project, although whether a casino could be realised prior to the World Expo – as suggested by the Osaka Restoration Association – is unclear.
An advisor to Japan’s government said during the conference segment of the MGS Entertainment Show, a casino trade event and conference in Macau in November, it was likely to be 2025 at the earliest before any of the three initially-permitted resorts could open. At the same event a Japan-based consultant from business services firm EY said it was more likely to be 2027.
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Vitaly Umansky, Eunice Lee and Kelsey Zhu
Sanford Bernstein analysts