Tokyo Could Be on the Verge of Exiting the Japan IR Race

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When Japan first started talking about integrated resorts (IR) a couple of years ago, there was a lot of initial support across the country. The idea of attracting more tourism and jobs through a guaranteed money-maker seemed to be like a good idea. However, the positive sentiment has waned somewhat over the past three years, partly due to COVID-19 and partly because of greedy politicians who accepted bribes in return for favors from operators. Attrition in the IR hunt has continued over the past year and, although there was once almost a guarantee that certain cities would be chosen in the first round of selections, that list is seeing changes, as well. Tokyo is no longer at the top of the list after regional elections shifted control of the area’s power circle.

Tokyo Falls Out of Favor as IR Host

Despite the large amount of initial support for IRs in Japan, there were those that also tried to block the effort. Some of these had legitimate concerns, while others opposed the topic simply because they like to oppose anything that comes up. All of them, however, were able to unify their efforts after Tsukasa Akimoto, now a disgraced politician, was busted in a bribery scandal involving Chinese gambling operator 500.com. That gave the opponents fodder to support their belief that legalized gambling would bring more criminal activity. When five more politicians were named in the debacle a few months later, opponents had more fuel to add to their fire.

Being the country’s heart, Tokyo has had its share of casino detractors, but the Liberal Democratic Party, (LDP), Japan’s ruling party and the party that controls metropolitan Tokyo, has been able to keep enough support because of its large political influence. The LDP, along with its largest ally, the Komeito political party, have held enough seats in the local government to sway popular opinion. That is no longer the case, however, according to GGRAsia. Combined, the LDP and Komeito now control well under half of the seats in the 127-seat assembly.

LDP and Komeito Lose Ground

In the latest elections, the LDP was only able to hang onto 33 seats in the Assembly, while Komeito retained just 23 of its previously-held spots. The LDP, Komeito and the Japan Restoration Party (LRP) are the only three that continue to support the idea of an IR in the city, with all other political parties mounting a unified front to oppose the idea. The LDP and Komeito can’t count on much support from the LRP, as it was only able to pick up one seat in the Assembly.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Tokyo has been knocked out of the race, but it doesn’t paint a bright future. Japan is still confident that its long-term objectives through IRs can be reached and isn’t stopping its plans. The country has had to alter its schedule several times already, but expects to have the final list of three initial host candidates in place by next summer. If Tokyo were to drop out, there would be four possibilities left, including Nagasaki, Osaka, Wakayama and Yokohama. One of those, however, could also drop out, as Yokohama could be looking at increased opposition.  

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