In November, Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki said his prefecture was withdrawing from the competition to become home to an integrated resort, leaving some operators in the lurch.
Others remain focused on bringing a gaming property to the region in Northern Japan, including Hard Rock International. The fast-growing gaming business of the Seminole Tribe was one of three operators, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment (MGE) and Rush Street Japan being the others, looking to bring an integrated resort to Hokkaido.
In announcing that the prefecture was departing the casino resort fray, Suzuki cited environmental concerns, noting that it would take officials too long to make necessary accommodations for gaming companies while ensuring adequate protection for local wildlife.
Hard Rock Japan President Ado Machida wasn’t pleased with Suzuki’s decision, but intimated that his company isn’t throwing in the towel on Hokkaido just yet.
I really don’t understand [the Governor’s decision] and I feel it’s a bit of a waste,” said Machida in an interview with Inside Asian Gaming. “An IR was expected to help drastically mitigate the problems of population decline, the declining birthrate, an aging population and the tax decline that comes with that.”
Japan is another frontier in Hard Rock’s international expansion efforts, which also include participation in integrated resort competitions in Australia and Greece, among locations. The company currently runs two Canadian gaming venues and one in the Dominican Republic.
Last week, Hard Rock rival MGE said it’s still evaluating its options in Northern Asia and that it respects Suzuki’s call to pull Hokkaido out of the integrated resort fray. Rush Street Japan has yet to comment publicly on its Japan plans with its preferred prefecture being out of the running.
For its part, Hard Rock appears willing to stay the course with Hokkaido, although Machida noted it has been difficult to talk with Suzuki since his decision.
But we will continue our efforts for a future IR bid in Hokkaido,” said Machida in the Inside Asian Gaming interview. “Of course, we are an official partner of the soccer team Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, and we will continue our sponsorship of the Sapporo Snow Festival.”
That approach could pay dividends in the future, because Suzuki didn’t say the prefecture was permanently out of the running. Additionally, Japan’s initial round of gaming license rewards will go to just three areas for just three venues, with Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka widely viewed as the leading contenders.
Hard Rock was planning to spend $5 billion in Hokkaido, roughly 10 times what the company spent to open its namesake casino on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J.
Unlike Yokohama, where many locals aren’t in favor of a gaming property, the idea of an integrated resort was viewed warmly in Hokkaido, indicating that the venture could be resuscitated down the road if the initial Japanese gaming properties prove successful.