Yokohama Mayor Reverses Course, Now Opposes Casino Ballot Referendum

Posted on: January 4, 2021, 01:39h. 

Last updated on: August 2, 2021, 01:04h.

Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi says she now opposes holding a local ballot referendum to gauge public support for an integrated resort (IR) casino.

Yokohama casino Japan IR integrated resort
Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi wants to bypass a ballot referendum and move forward with the city’s integrated resort ambitions. (Image: The Japan Times/

Yokohama is one of four cities in Japan that plan to receive one of the three forthcoming IR permits. But in Yokohama, the second-largest city in Japan by population, many locals have voiced their opposition to bringing a commercial gambling destination to the region.

A coalition advocating for Yokohama to fold on its casino ambitions successfully garnered enough resident signatures to proceed with a ballot referendum. Hayashi said in October that she would respect the will of the people if a referendum came back with a majority resistant to an IR.   

But now, just weeks after the “Yokohama Citizens’ Group to Decide on a Casino” submitted more than enough signatures for a referendum, the mayor is altering her position. Hayashi, who has held the title of mayor since August of 2009, says a referendum will only further delay Yokohama from reaping the benefits of hosting a casino resort.

Ballot Antagonist

The legislative process in Japan can be lengthy, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated that reality. The delay has caused some global casino operators — most notably Las Vegas Sands — to lose interest in Japan.

Hayashi says the city should not cause additional slowdowns.

A referendum means shelving the discussions that have occurred to date. Based on the discussions of the council, it is important to proceed steadily with the legal procedures,” the mayor recently declared.

Along with delaying the casino path, Hayashi says ballot referendums are expensive to conduct. And referendums, unlike most in the US, are not legally binding outcomes in Japan, meaning the Yokohama government could still proceed with its casino intentions regardless of the ballot outcome.

With more than the 62,500 signatures needed to present a ballot referendum to the Yokohama City Council, a representative of the “Yokohama Citizens’ Group to Decide on a Casino” will seek referendum approval at a council meeting on Thursday. The City Council consists of 86 members.

Tokyo Influence

Japan’s Basic Policy on IRs initially calls for only three casino licenses. Osaka and Yokohama are viewed as the odds-on front-runners for two of the permits. The other two cities that have publicly expressed their candidacy for a resort are Nagasaki and Wakayama.

However, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike revealed recently that the Japanese capital and most populous prefecture is mulling an entry. If Tokyo indeed seeks an IR, casino operators would likely favor building in the major global city.

Tokyo could also lengthen Yokohama’s odds, as it neighbors the capital metro. Japan lawmakers initially envisioned its three casinos as being catalysts to increase tourism to the Land of the Rising Sun, but also generate localized economic development across the country.

Hayashi says a casino could solve many of the city’s problems.

“You might think of Yokohama as this big, rosy city known for hosting a wide variety of events. But every year we find ourselves saddled with deficits,” Hayashi said last year.