Governor of Hokkaido Reiterates Prefecture’s Decision to Stay Away from Casino Expansion

The Governor of Hokkaido prefecture in Japan, Naomichi Suzuki, once again confirmed that, for the time being, his local authority does not intend to seek expansion in the country’s current phase of gambling market liberalization. The Governor said that the prefecture of Hokkaido would not participate in the application process for the right to host one of the three luxurious casino complexes, also known as integrated casino resorts (IRs).

The statement regarding the casino expansion was made during Mr. Suzuki’s regular briefing for the media.

Some commentary that the prefecture of Hokkaido might reconsider its decision to abstain from participating in the current phase of the application process has emerged lately in Japan. Media reports have been mentioning Tomakomai, an old industrial and port city, as a location that could be suitable to host an integrated casino resort that could potentially be situated in Hokkaido because the IR would benefit from the larger number of tourists and the region’s regeneration in case such an entertainment, hospitality and gambling resort is established there.

It was in November 2019 when Governor Suzuki had first revealed that the northernmost prefecture in Japan – Hokkaido – would not participate in the integrated casino resorts’ license application process. At the time, he still seemed to be leaving the door open for such a pursuit in the future, as he specifically mentioned that the prefecture would not be involved in the first phase of the liberalization process.

TsukasaAkimoto’s Bribery Scandal Could Have Affected the Prefecture’s Decision

The opening round of private-sector lobbying for an integrated casino resort in the prefecture in Hokkaido before Governor Suzuki officially saying no such expansion would be sought led to a massive scandal involving bribery allegations associated with representatives of the mainland China online operator 500.com.

Mid-October 2020 saw two Japanese residents receiving suspended imprisonment sentences after the Tokyo District Court found them guilty of offering bribes to Japanese lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto over a casino scheme that had previously been proposed in the prefecture of Hokkaido.

Tsukasa Akimoto, who had been one of the leading lobbyists for the integrated casino resorts’ policy in Japan at the time he occupied a lawmaker’s position, has faced accusations of receiving bribes in the process. So far, he has rejected the allegation and his case is still pending in court.

As announced by the Japanese Government, a total of three integrated casino resorts are set to be allowed in Japan in the initial opening-up phase of the casino market liberalization process. Local governments are first required to find a company operating in the private sector for a partner that would operate the IR if such is permitted in the region, and then file an application for an IR operating license to the Central Government.

It was officially revealed that the application phase is set to start on October 1, 2021, nationally. Local Governments will have until April 28th, 2022 to participate. For the time being, it remains unclear whether the authorities will roll out a second phase for additional operating licenses of integrated casino resorts and, if so, when will such a phase take place.

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