IAG takes a look at how Wakayama prefecture is responding to concerns over an IR development by local opposition groups.
Ever since it was decided that integrated resorts would grace the islands of Japan, the “casino” part of the equation has sparked active debate.
The fact that casinos represent the driving engine of IRs is the main issue all of Japan’s opposition groups have in common. These opposition exercises are largely focused on concerns over gambling addiction and disruption to public safety.
Naturally, some of the opposition are organizations and groups who oppose the country’s IR plans due to political inclinations. However, it is insightful to delve a little deeper into how individual candidate prefectures are responding to the concerns issued by anti-casino groups.
In the case of Wakayama, which has already launched its RFP process with current candidates Suncity Group and Canadian investment firm Clairvest Group, officials recently responded to a public inquiry letter sent by “Stop! Casino Wakayama Group” in May.
Following is a summary of the key questions and answers.
Question: Wakayama boasts history and natural resources like Mt Koya and the Kumano Kodo that have increasingly attracted foreign tourists. Casinos are the exact opposite of these. Won’t the impression of being a casino town damage our reputation?
Answer: Customer remitting facilities, which make up the structure of an IR, will provide necessary information to travellers on the magnificent nature spots and scenery, our unique history, culture, traditions and food and the other surrounding attractions that foreign tourists seek.
Cutting-edge technology such as Virtual Reality can be used for this, supporting multiple foreign languages, serving as a one-stop shop to service visitors’ need. This will draw visitors to our tourist locations. We don’t believe that an IR, including a casino, will be a detraction for visitors.
Q: Overseas, casinos have become a hotbed of crime due to the involvement of organized crime. Is it even possible to be sure that a selected operator doesn’t have such connections?
A: We as a prefecture will conduct an investigation to check if there are any disqualifications in obtaining a casino business license, such as inquiries with the prefectural public safety commission as to whether the IR operator executives or shareholders have links to organized crime. Further, we will carry out thorough background checks on all concerned parties in Japan (including subsidiaries, secondary, tertiary and other connections).
Q: The basic concept states sales of JPY140.1 billion (US$1.32 billion) annually with 68% of visitors to the casino being Japanese. Won’t this depress the economic power of the surrounding area?
A: Assumed sales will be drawn from all over the world. We aim to meet the public interest through profits from a healthy casino business operated with the proper monitoring and controls of the central government. The IR is anticipated to have a very significant economic ripple effect and job creation. We will harness this to achieve sustainable growth in Wakayama and Kansai. According to estimates by the prefecture, 70% of the casino’s visitors may be Japanese, but 70% of sales will come from foreign visitors.
Q: The agreement period for the IR operator will be 40 years. Will the prefecture buy the land back from the operator at the expiration of the agreement?
A: The land handback at the end of the period will be determined upon negotiations with the future operator.
Q: What can the prefecture do if someone related to the operator has links to organized crime or is arrested for bribing a politician? Further, if the agreement is violated, how will the prefecture hold the operator liable to compensate for losses?
A: In such cases, the prefecture can terminate the agreement with the operator. Further, in cases where the agreement is terminated for reasons attributed to the operator, the prefecture will not be held liable for any compensation to the operator.
The same opposition group later held a press conference where they told journalists there were several problematic points in the responses and that they are considering following up.