Hokkaido Integrated Resort Aspirations are Clinging to new Life

The final nail in the coffin of Hokkaido prefecture’s designs on hosting an integrated resort hasn’t yet been hammered. Lawmakers there are expected to set aside funds for a bid down the road in its upcoming general budget.

Hokkaido could reverse course and get back into the Japan casino race in the future. (Image: AllAbout-Japan.com)

Last November, Hokkaido’s governor, Naomichi Suzuki, pulled the prefecture from Japan’s integrated resort competition, citing environmental concerns. He had hoped to see a gaming property built in Tomakomai, close to New Chitose Airport. But the environmental research necessary to accommodate that would have been costly, time-consuming, and a bad fit for the federal government’s time line.

Should the upcoming general budget feature an allocation for a future integrated resort effort, it would mark a shift in Suzuki’s policy, and potentially renew hope among gaming companies that were eyeing the prefecture.

The policy reflects the attitude of Governor Naomichi Suzuki, who has said he will continue work for an IR despite announcing late last year that Hokkaido would not bid to develop an integrated resort when the national government starts accepting applications in January 2021,” reports Inside Asian Gaming.

Hokkaido was the first Japanese region to depart the gaming property bidding process and was followed by Chiba earlier this month.

Hokkaido Hopes

Amid an intensifying bribery probe involving Chinese online gambling company 500.com and several Japanese politicians accused of accepting graft, opposition to bringing casinos to the Land of the Rising Sun is growing among some lawmakers.

However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is forging ahead with the effort as an avenue for boosting tourism and business travel.

Hard Rock International, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE), and Rush Street Japan were seen as the most viable contenders to land a Hokkaido gaming license, though the controversy-ridden 500.com was believed to have been interested in the prefecture, too.

When Suzuki announced the decision to withdraw Hokkaido from the casino-resort race, Hard Rock and MGE, which had opened a related office in the region, expressed disappointment.

A Hard Rock executive said he didn’t understand Suzuki’s call and called it “a bit of a waste.”

Moving Forward

Hard Rock said it’s planning to continue promoting its effort to bring a gaming venue to Hokkaido. The operator previously said it could spend up to $5 billion to build an integrated resort in the prefecture, making it one of the pricier projects the company has taken on.

“The candidate site, Tomakomai City, has announced that it had not given up hope of developing an IR, aiming to attract foreign visitors by utilizing the area’s natural tourist resources,” according to IAG. “The city has also promised to conduct its own independent environmental survey.”

Suzuki said last year that such an assessment could take three years, and then another four to five years to build the gaming property, potentially detracting from Hokkaido’s position in the competition because federal regulators are hoping to have the integrated resorts open by 2025 or 2026.

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