Last week’s announcement by the Japanese government that it would postpone the application period of local governments to develop IR facilities has created stark division between the locations currently preparing their respective IR bids.
Originally scheduled for January to July 2021, applications will now be accepted from 1 October 2021 to 28 April 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which will subsequently delay the opening of Japan’s first IRs.
The postponement follows on from a delay in finalization of Japan’s Basic Policy on IRs, which had originally been planned for publication in January 2020. However, an IR corruption scandal and the global impact of COVID-19 has created hurdles for foreign operators in terms of their finances and ability to continue negotiations with local governments.
The government will formally decide its Basic Policy after a new round of public comments concludes on 7 November. The new Basic Policy draft includes infectious disease countermeasures, rules on the creation of minutes from meetings between government officials and operators, which must also be stored for a certain period of time, and greater efforts to tackle problem gambling.
However, not all candidate locations have greeted the news with open arms.
Currently Osaka city and prefecture, Yokohama city, Wakayama prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture have announced they will make formal bids. Of these, there are looming clouds for Wakayama.
Wakayama prefecture was aiming to steal a quick victory by preparing its bid according to the original schedule, no matter the obstacles. The strategy of Osaka to open before the World Expo is now dead in the water. Wakayama’s governor, Yoshinobu Nisaka, has expressed regret and “deep dissatisfaction.”
Postponement presents a problem even in Yokohama city where opponents to an IR facility have been gaining traction. Mayor Hayashi has said, “We have conducted additional hearings with operators who submitted a proposal and properly considered them. We will work hard to gain residents’ understanding as we move forward with realizing an IR.”
But the situation is now highly unpredictable with the mayor’s fate to be decided at an election on 29 August 2021, right before the application period.
The remaining two local governments have accepted the delay with calm.
Mayor Ichiro Matsui of Osaka welcomed it with gratitude. Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura of Osaka Prefecture said it was a “reasonable decision.” Their interest seems to be focused on the Osaka Metropolis Plan to be voted upon on 1 November.
Governor Nakamura of Nagasaki Prefecture said, “We are currently preparing for the open recruitment and selection of IR companies. Based on the details of this change, we will steadily proceed with preparations for the area certification application while listening to the opinions of the operators.”