Yokohama Casino Referendum Obtains Necessary Signatures

Posted on: November 9, 2020, 10:44h. 

Last updated on: November 9, 2020, 11:17h.

Yokohama residents could face a ballot referendum in the future asking whether they support an integrated resort (IR) casino in the city.

Yokohama Japan casino integrated resort
Yokohama residents could be asked during a vote to give their opinion on the city building a casino resort destination to spur economic growth. (Image: Stars and Stripes)

Opposition to allowing Yokohama to be one of the three locales with a commercial casino is escalating in Japan’s second- largest city by population. A committee dedicated to expressing the public’s opinion on gambling has garnered the necessary signatures to place a local ballot question before voters regarding IRs during a future election.

“Yokohama Citizens’ Group to Decide on a Casino” says it has obtained far more than the signatures required to move forward a ballot referendum. The committee claims to have collected 156,000 resident signatures, more than double the 62,500 minimum.

The Yokohama city government will now begin the process of certifying the signatures. If the 62,500-person threshold is validated, Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi says she will submit a referendum ordinance proposal to the City Council.

Yokohama is one of four cities in Japan that has publicly expressed its interest to win one of the country’s three forthcoming commercial casino licenses. The others are Osaka, Wakayama, and Nagasaki.

City Could Block Referendum

Citizen-led ballot referendums do not have the same clout in Japan as they do in many US states. In fact, local government leaders can block them entirely.

Ballot referendums in Japan are simply a tool for citizens to express their voice to lawmakers, whether it be the central government or their prefecture and city. Governments do not need to adhere to referendums, despite whether they gain the adequate number of signatures. If one proceeds, governments also do not have to abide by the vote outcome.

The Yokohama City Council is controlled by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the controlling party in Tokyo and the party of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Bringing casinos to Japan was part of former PM Shinzo Abe’s economic development initiatives,  commonly known as “Abenomics.” Suga has pledged to continue his predecessor’s goals of diversifying Japan and making the Asian country a more leisure and tourism destination.

While Hayashi can submit the casino ordinance proposal, there’s no guarantee that the Yokohama City Council will adopt the resolution and put the matter before voters to gauge their stance on an IR. Hayashi is also an LDP member, but told her constituents last month that she would honor any ballot referendum motion with valid signatory support.

Yokohama IR Policy Development

Despite the opposition saying they’ve obtained enough referendum signatures, Hayashi announced the formation of the Yokohama IR Promotion Council late last week. The group is being tasked, according to Inside Asian Gaming, with facilitating the exchange of feedback on issues relating to the IR bid.

The committee is set to hold its first meeting on November 17. Hayashi will be joined on the Council by Kanagawa Prefecture Governor Yuji Kuroiwa, who is independent of a political party. Seats are also afforded to reps from the Kanagawa Public Safety Commission, Yokohama Neighborhood Association, Yokohama Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Yokohama City University.