Yokohama Mayoral Candidate Masataka Ota to Run on Anti-Casino Platform

Posted on: January 19, 2021, 11:27h. 

Last updated on: January 19, 2021, 12:28h.

Yokohama mayoral candidate Masataka Ota says he will challenge incumbent Mayor Fumiko Hayashi this summer. The longtime City Council member plans to woo over voters by running an opposition campaign to a potential integrated resort (IR) in Japan’s second most populated city.

Yokohama casino integrated resort mayor
Yokohama City Council member Masataka Ota is seeking to oust the current mayor. His main reason for running is his antagonism to a casino resort. (Image: The Japan Times)

Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi reversed course recently, saying she would no longer respect the will of the people in any ballot referendum regarding the city bidding for one of Japan’s three casinos IR licenses. After originally expressing support for a citizen-led referendum effort, Hayashi and her City Council swiftly rejected a motion that had far more than enough resident signatures.

Ota says he’s on the side of the people and believes casinos will harm the city.

If I become the mayor of Yokohama, the casino issue will disappear that very day. To put it plainly, I will not do casinos,” Ota said, as first reported by Inside Asian Gaming.

Yokohama has the interest of several casino operators, including Melco Resorts, Sega Sammy, Wynn Resorts, and Galaxy Entertainment.

Testing Public Opposition

The Yokohama City Council certified more than 200,000 signatures submitted by the Yokohama Citizens’ Group to Decide on a Casino. The signatories backed an effort to put a ballot referendum before voters asking whether they want to allow an IR in the city limits.

The liberalization of commercial gambling is largely unpopular in Japan. A poll conducted last year by Kyodo News found that 71 percent of Japanese residents want the government to reconsider its plans to embrace IR casinos.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed casinos as a tourism revival for the country. His successor, PM Yoshihide Suga, is carrying on that mission. The National Diet is controlled by Abe and Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The LDP also controls the Yokohama City Council. Hayashi is a member herself. Ota running on an anti-IR platform will determine just how opposed the public really is.

“I have been consistent in my message that casinos cause problems and are not a good thing,” Ota declared. “I do not believe there is any other way to save Yokohama but to become mayor myself.”

Mayoral Race

Hayashi has not yet announced whether she intends to run for another term. She’s held the office of mayor for more than a decade. The 2021 election is to be held in August.

In Japan, city mayors are elected to four-year terms, and there are no term limits. Ota has been elected to the Yokohama City Council 11 times. Each term runs four years.

Ota, now 75, became one of Yokohama’s 86 City Council members back in the late 1970s. He’s currently a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party but says he will run as an independent candidate against Hayashi.