Osaka Mayor and Governor Swap Jobs in Local Elections to Keep Casino Vision Intact

Posted on: April 8, 2019, 12:19h. 

Last updated on: April 8, 2019, 12:20h.

In a risky political maneuver, the Osaka City mayor and Osaka Prefecture governor swapped jobs on Sunday in a move that bodes well for the administration’s ambition to host Japan’s first integrated resort.

Osaka casino
Former governor, Ichiro Matsui (left), now mayor, and former mayor, Hirofumi Yoshimura, now governor. Their election to one another’s jobs on Sunday keeps the push for an Osaka casino on track. (Image: Kyodo)

With both approaching the end of their terms, former mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura and former governor Ichiro Matsui resigned from their positions last month in a bid to run for one another’s jobs at Sunday’s local elections — and, while controversial and highly unusual, the move paid off, receiving the emphatic endorsement of voters.

It may have been a political gamble, but the role swap was not only about an Osaka casino. Yoshimura and Matsui’s party, Osaka Ishin, wants to merge the city’s 24 wards — sub-municipal administrative entities — into one municipal body, which it claims will cut costs and promote growth.

The proposal was narrowly defeated in a public referendum last year, but Yoshimura and Matsui believe Sunday’s voter endorsement could pave the way for a new vote on the issue.

Osaka Casino and Other Big Ideas

The merger is part of a series of reforms backed by the two men, which includes the establishment of an integrated resort and the hosting of the World’s Fair in 2025.

Osaka won its bid to hold the international expo last November and officials believe it will attract 28 million visitors. There are hopes an integrated resort can be ready in time to capitalize.

Of Japan’s three biggest cities, Osaka has shown by far the most enthusiasm for the establishment a casino in its midst, and the feeling among international operators like MGM Resorts, LVS, Melco, and others is mutual.

With the elections out of the way, and continuity established, Osaka Ishin can move forward with choosing a development partner and working to become the first Japanese city with a casino.

Change in Hokkaido

Meanwhile, Hokkaido — Japan’s northernmost prefecture, and also its second largest island — also held gubernatorial elections, which Inside Asian Gaming reports produced a positive result for its casino ambitions.

Hokkaido officials are interested in hosting an integrated resort in the city of Tomakomai, and the election of a young new governor, Naomichi Suzuki, who is said to be open to the idea, will be welcomed by operators with designs on the area.

These include Hard Rock International, Caesars Entertainment, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment and Foxwoods.

But with only three licenses initially made available by the central government, Hokkaido would have to compete in a national selection process, and its chances of success are far less assured than a huge metropolis such as Osaka.