Osaka’s Dreams of Casino Resort on Landfill Island May End Up Trashed

Posted on: February 8, 2017, 04:16h. 

Last updated on: February 8, 2017, 04:20h.

The Japanese city of Osaka is pushing ahead with an ambitious project to build an integrated casino resort on an artificial island in Osaka Bay.

Yumeshima, site of proposed Osaka casino
Casinos are very likely coming to Japan and Osaka wants to be in the mix, but its plans for a multi-billion-dollar casino resort on Yumeshima island could be a bit of a gamble. (Image: Port and Harbor Bureau, Osaka)

Yumeshima is a reclaimed landfill island, which the city hopes will be transformed into a gleaming new casino, with hotels, shopping, arcades, galleries and a convention center, to be completed by 2024.

Another portion of the island will be reserved for the World Exposition in 2025, bringing total construction costs to over $7 billion.

The Japanese parliament passed its Integrated Resorts Promotion bill in December, paving the way for full scale casino resorts in the country for the very first time. Japan has been called the “sleeping giant” of casino gaming, with a potential market worth, depending on which consultant you talk to, up to $40 billion per year.

Osaka wants to be the first player in the market. The only snag in its plan? Well, there are a few, actually.

Built It and They Might Not Come 

First, it has yet to convince a global casino developer not only to partner with it, but also that Yumeshima Island is the place to build. For a start, the city would have to extend its subway system out to the island, an operation that would cost an estimated $600 million, and no one’s quite sure who will pick up that bill.

Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura has assured any future casino partner that the city will pick up the tab for a “large portion” of this cost, but it’s likely that this hypothetical partner might prefer to consider a site that doesn’t come with this extra meteoric expenditure.

There’s also the suggestion that the Chinese high rollers Osaka dreams of attracting may not wish to take the hour’s subway ride from the airport to Yumeshima, having just arrived on board their private jets. Maybe it would be more advantageous and economical to build a casino closer to the airport, suggest cynics.

Support for Casinos Low

And of course, while the Japanese parliament has passed an act authorizing the regulation of casino gaming, it has not yet developed a framework of regulation. And without such a framework, the country can’t make a claim to have legalized casinos at all, yet.

There is no suggestion, either, of how many licenses will be made available, or whether Osaka is even in the running, although it is said to be among the favorites.

But the polls show there is little support among the Japanese populace for casinos (just 12 percent, according to one), which may cause lawmakers to temper their enthusiasm for creating licenses, at least to begin with.

Similarly, there isn’t much public support in Osaka for the city’s own casino plan. And meanwhile, the city faces strong competition from Paris as the host of the 2025 Expo and may well lose the bid, although it won’t find out until November 2018.

Osaka is gambling on too many eventualities, say critics. And what will the city do with Yumeshima, which has been earmarked for commercial expansion since it was created, if the casino and Expo plans fall through?

Yoshimura told the Japanese press recently that he was not considering a ‘Plan B’ or ‘Plan C.’

“It will just make bidding more difficult,” he reasoned.