Yokohama Casino Resort Odds Lengthen Following Takeharu Yamanaka Mayoral Win

Posted on: August 22, 2021, 11:02h. 

Last updated on: August 22, 2021, 12:06h.

Yokohama will soon have a new mayor, but not likely a casino resort anytime soon.

Yokohama mayor casino resort IR Japan
Dr. Takeharu Yamanaka greets a Yokohama resident while campaigning earlier this month. The doctor, whose resume includes no political experience, is expected to become the next mayor of Yokohama. (Image: Facebook)

Yokohama’s odds of winning one of Japan’s three integrated resort (IR) concessions lengthened greatly today after Dr. Takeharu Yamanaka pulled off a shocking victory in the city’s mayoral election.

Yamanaka, who has no political experience, has committed to folding on the city’s plans to bid the central government for a casino license. The 48-year-old won over voters largely on COVID-19 concerns. Yamanaka is a former Yokohama City University professor who is a data scientist. His recent work has focused on analyzing vaccine efficacy on coronavirus variants.

Yamanaka beat out a record eight candidates seeking the mayor’s office, including incumbent Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, the city’s first female mayor who was seeking an extraordinary fourth four-year term. The pre-election betting favorite was Hachiro Okonogi, a former National Diet lawmaker and National Public Safety Commission chair.

The vast field meant one candidate achieving the required 25 percent threshold would be difficult. But Yamanaka is expected to eclipse the necessary support to avoid a second ballot runoff.

Casino Candidacy Exit

Yamanaka was one of several Yokohama mayoral candidates who openly voiced his opposition to allowing a casino to be built in Japan’s second-most populated city. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is carrying on his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s wishes of transforming Japan into a leisure destination featuring commercial casinos.

Suga and Abe, both members of the central government’s controlling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), used their power in Tokyo to pass legislation legalizing slot machines and table games at three IRs. Hayashi supported Yokohama becoming one of the casino sites.

Yamanaka as mayor says he will end the city’s IR candidacy.

We will issue a formal statement soon making it clear that Yokohama will not make a hosting bid,” he said Sunday night. In earlier comments regarding gambling, the incoming Yokohama mayor labeled casinos a “poison apple.”

Yamanaka received the support of the Constitutional Democratic Party and Japan Communist Party during Sunday’s election. The Yokohama mayoral result was yet another blow to Japan’s top government official, as Yoshihide had endorsed Okonogi, who is also an LDP member.

Yoshihide’s term as LDP president ends next month. The party will re-elect him if uncontested, or otherwise hold a party vote should there be a challenge.

Bad Result for Genting, Melco

Japan’s three commercial casino licenses were once the most coveted permits in the global gaming industry. But the country’s slow process of moving the IR process forward, further compounded by COVID-19 and world economic unease, made those three permits not nearly as desirable.

Malaysia-based Genting Group and Macau IR operator Melco Resorts nonetheless have remained intent on Yokohama.

Yokohama unveiled models of each group’s qualifying IR bid late last month. But the exhibits featured few concrete details. Both schemes target the Yokohama Pier for the casino resorts.

Genting Group, one of the world’s largest casino operators, has IRs in Malaysia, UK, Singapore, US, Philippines, and Caribbean. The company that controls the Resorts World brand was the consensus front-runner among gaming analysts in Yokohama.