Wakayama steps up, Nagasaki shifts into high gear, and Hokkaido throws in the towel

Japan IR licence
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Wakayama prefecture has purchased the land for a prospective casino resort in a $70.8m deal, while Nagasaki prefecture received four confirmed applicants for its request-for-concept process and Hokkaido has dropped out of the race for one of Japan’s first three integrated resort licences.


Wakayama prefecture has thrown its hat into the ring, with the regional authorities planning to a request-for-proposal (RFP) process aiming to attract private-sector partners for an integrated resort bid.

Joining Yokohama city and Nagasaki prefecture, Wakayama reportedly plans to launch its RFP process in spring 2020. Osaka, Chiba, and Aichi prefectures have also expressed their interest in competing for an IR licence.

The prefecture, located on the southernmost point of Honshu, aims to choose a corporate partner by autumn next year. The local authorities recently confirmed that they have reached a deal to buy a plot of land for a prospective casino resort. The Wakayama Prefectural Assembly approved a supplementary budget with an additional provision to fund the land purchase on 3 December.

It will pay JPY7.7bn ($70.8m) for a 20.5-hectare (50.7-acre) plot of land in Wakayama Marina City, a resort town built on a 49- hectare (121-acre) artificial island.

Nevertheless, the acquisition will only move forward if the prefecture is selected by the national government to host an IR, while the local government plans to sell the land on to the casino developer for the purchasing price.

“As the process rolls out, there are two things observers of the market should watch. The first is the locations that emerge and officially put forward a full RFP process. The second is how operators play their cards in terms of whether they commit to one market or decide to make a play in multiple markets,” said Brendan D. Bussmann is a partner and director of government affairs with Global Market Advisors, writing in a recent comment piece.

Moving north, the governor of Hokkaido prefecture has said his administration will not pursue one of the country’s first three IR licences.

Nevertheless, governor Naomichi Suzuki said that Hokkaido might seek to host an IR in a future round of market development.

Despite strong support from local businesses, the governor took the decision to drop out of the race due to environmental concerns surrounding the regional government’s preferred site for an IR development, the port city of Tomakomai.

The final nail in the coffin for a Hokkaido IR bid was the news that an environmental assessment for the project could take up to three years. “As a result of careful consideration, I had reached the conclusion that I would like to give an IR bid a shot, however the candidate site is likely to be a habitat of rare animals and plants, and the appropriate environmental considerations would be impossible in the restricted schedule,” Suzuki explained, speaking to the Hokkaido assembly.

Several international casino operators had previously expressed interest in investing in an IR project on the northernmost of Japan’s main islands.

In October, US-based tribal casino operator Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment said it had opened an office in Tomakomai, while Hard Rock International was also said to be planning to open a regional office on the island.

Over in Europe, the two firms are currently competing for a casino resort concession in Athens which will form part of the EUR8bn Hellinikon mega-resort development. Mohegan CEO Mario Kontomerkos said the company is considering whether to switch to another location in Japan or withdraw from the IR race altogether.

“Regarding Hokkaido, we are evaluating our options,” he stated. “Although the outcome is not what we had hoped for, we understand the position of governor Suzuki and respect his judgment regarding IR development in Hokkaido.

“We will continue to elevate the global integrated resort concept in Northern Asia via our Inspire development in South Korea, and we remain committed to the broader region.”

Rush Street Japan had announced in October that it had appointed two leading architecture and design firms, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill – the company behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and New York’s One World Trade Center – and landscape architecture and design firm Takano Landscape Planning to work on its Hokkaido IR proposal. At the time of writing it’s unclear whether the US-based casino operator will now shift its focus to another region.

Meanwhile, Nagasaki prefecture received four confirmed applicants for its request-for-concept (RFC) process regarding a possible casino resort scheme on land at the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Sasebo city.

Local officials said that Japanese company Current Corp, Hong Kong-based financial services firm Oshidori International Development, and Casinos Austria International Japan had applied to take part in the RFC, while a fourth company did not wish to disclose its identity at this time.

The Nagasaki authorities had set a 22 November deadline for all firms and businesses interested in participating in the RFC phase. Nevertheless, they clarified that those who did not take part in the RFC will not be barred from participating in the subsequent RFP phase.

Those companies that are participating now have until 10 January 2020 to submit their RFC proposal documentation.

Speaking to the Nagasaki prefectural assembly, the governor of Nagasaki Hodo Nakamura said the local government intends to finalise the prefecture’s implementation policy for an IR by March 2020. It will then launch its RFP process in spring, and aims to select a casino operator by the autumn.

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