Yokohama Pulls Out of Japanese Casino Race

Posted on: September 10, 2021, 07:49h. 

Last updated on: September 10, 2021, 12:58h.

Japan’s second-biggest city, Yokohama, has officially withdrawn its bid to host a casino resort. The city was once a big favorite to be chosen as a location for one of three integrated resorts under government legislation passed in 2018 to legalize casino gaming in Japan.

Takeharu Yamanaka
Yokohama’s new mayor, Dr Takeharu Yamanaka, campaigned on an anti-casino ticket, while promising to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. (Image: Asahi Shimbun)

But the writing has been on the wall for Yokohama since the surprise election of its new mayor, Dr. Takeharu Yamanaka, who opposed the casino process.

The data scientist and former Yokohama City University professor has no prior political experience. But his work on analyzing vaccine efficacy on coronavirus variants is what sold him to voters, suggesting that casinos are not high on the list for a populace prioritizing safety during the pandemic.

Public Never Sold

The truth is, the public was never on board. Casino legalization has long been a pet project of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which believes integrated resorts will boost tourism and provide economic stimulus. But the public has never been convinced, especially in Yokohama.

A September 2018 poll commissioned by the municipal government found that a staggering 94 percent of Yokohama residents said they had negative viewpoints on allowing an integrated casino resort to be built in the city. Most cited an increase in problem gambling as their major concern.

Meanwhile, approval ratings of the casino-backing LDP have plunged over government failure to control the pandemic. Last week, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced he would not seek re-election after just a year in office.

Japan has endured three states of emergency and four waves of the pandemic, and many of the country’s big cities remain under a state of emergency.

Process Stalled by COVID

Former mayor Fumiko Hayashi declared Yokohama’s interest in an integrated resort in 2019. But her continued support of the casino project contributed to her downfall at the recent election.

The new mayor said at his first policy speech at a local assembly Friday that the city government would immediately halt the ongoing process of bidding for the integrated resort “in response to the voices of citizens opposed to the integrated resort project.”

The process itself has been halted because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the government has said it plans to pick the three locations between October and April next year.

Now that Yokohama is out of the picture, just three prospective hosts remain in the city of Osaka and Osaka Prefecture, Wakayama Prefecture, and Nagasaki Prefecture. Each has teamed up with an international casino operator on their respective bids.