Japanese Casino Timelines Increasingly in Doubt as Pandemic Creates Uncertainty for Cities, Operators

Posted on: April 2, 2020, 05:02h. 

Last updated on: April 2, 2020, 05:34h.

As far as the Japanese central government is concerned, the process for approving integrated resorts is still going forward on schedule. But the coronavirus pandemic has local officials and gaming firms increasingly uncertain as to when they will be able to build and open the first casinos in Japan.

Japanese casino timelines coronavirus
Operators, prefectures, and cities are adjusting their expectations for Japanese casino timelines because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Image: Bloomberg)

Recent statements from government and corporate officials have shown how different prefectures and cities were gauging the impact that COVID-19 would have on their casino projects.

Casino Plans Vary Between Prefectures

Last week, Osaka officials admitted that opening an integrated resort before the 2025 World Expo was now unrealistic. On the other hand, Wakayama’s government is still moving forward on the original timeline, even though they acknowledge that changes might be in the works.

For the moment, the central government says its schedule isn’t changing,” Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka said at a press conference on Monday. “If that’s the case, unless we start the request for the proposal process, we won’t be on time, so we are proceeding. But if the central government’s schedule changes, we’ve said we’ll adjust.”

Currently, interested local governments must submit proposals between January and July 2021. The central government will then approve three integrated resorts later that year.

On that timeline, Japanese officials expected to open the first casinos around 2025. But Osaka recently extended its window for proposals, as MGM Resorts and its partner, the Orix Corp. – the only group to make a bid to build a casino in the prefecture – requested a delay because of the impact of the coronavirus in the United States and worldwide. Osaka officials now say that they want a casino to open by 2027.

Casino Timeline May Conflict with Olympics, Elections

The COVID-19 pandemic recently prompted organizers to delay the 2020 Summer Olympics until July 2021. Assuming that timeline remains intact, that means Japan will be ramping up for the Tokyo Games at the same time that prefectures and cities are meant to be putting together their casino proposals. Japan also plans to hold its next general election by October 2021.

In this situation, there are a lot of people for whom the January to July 2021 IR certification application period will be extremely inconvenient,” Takashi Kiso, CEO of Japan’s International Casino Institute, told The Japan Times. “Local governments and integrated casino resort operators who are dealing with the shock of the coronavirus in their home countries will find it very difficult to move their preparations forward. The Japanese government should revise the application period.”

Some operators may welcome these delays. While opening resorts later means losing out on revenues for some period of time, gaming firms will also have far more certainty about the future after the peak of the coronavirus pandemic has come and gone.

“MGM has a lot of challenges right now on their plate,” Global Market Advisors partner Brendan Bussman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It’s one of those [situations] where if I could take a breather off one element while I figure out others, I’d gladly take a pause.”