With Japan’s dreams of developing its first IRs continuing to face significant hurdles, experts from across the country and around the world came together to discuss the critical issues during the recent Japan IR Forum Online, organized by the Japan IR Association.
Japan’s increasingly beleaguered efforts to realize an integrated resort and casino industry continues to provide plenty of food for thought. The Japan IR Forum Online, held on 21 and 22 April 2021, saw speakers from some of the world’s leading IR jurisdictions, including Macau, the United States and Australia, come together to discuss everything from Japan’s ever-changing IR schedule to cutting-edge ideas around what these substantial developments might look like.
Hosted by the Japan IR Association (JIRA), Japan IR Forum Online aimed to share high-level considerations while pointing to past experiences globally in realizing these IRs while adapting to the challenges of a global pandemic. Taking into account the current situation where meeting with stakeholders and visiting regional jurisdictions has come to a standstill due to COVID, the objective of this forum was to serve as a bridge between operators, local governments and other industry-related people.
“I felt it was extremely important to hold this forum in April with the dimensions of Japan’s IR perspective plus a more comprehensive perspective where international knowledge could be exchanged,” said JIRA Representative Director, Ayako Nakayama.
“Originally there was a proposal to hold the event in person, but in order to provide information from overseas, which has become harder to come by during the pandemic, in the end we held the first online forum related to IR.
“When planning the forum, as we felt a strong necessity for front-line discussion and exchange of opinions across industries by stakeholders involved in a wide range of fields, we thought we should include participants both from the private and public sectors.
“The dates were in the middle of the selection process for many local governments, but both regulators and local administrations participated or watched, so it really felt like we were able to achieve sharing of the latest information and topics in the industry across sectors.”
More than 25 speakers, including Inside Asian Gaming’s Vice Chairman and CEO Andrew W Scott and Managing Editor Ben Blaschke, took part to provide Japan with some international perspective on its IR efforts.
“Although this was our first time hosting an online forum, everyone was very positive about the event and I really appreciate everyone who was involved, who spoke, and who viewed the event,” said Nakayama.
“I am extremely grateful for the cooperation from all directions, as this achievement was only possible thanks to the companies and media who worked together.
“Next time we hope to include IR operators on the list of speakers. We hope to learn from this event to brush up on our skills and incorporate the issues involved in operations. This coming autumn these discussions will be timely, as that will be a key period of time for Japan’s IR.”
Sessions of the Japan IR Forum Online covered 18 separate topics with discussions by experts centered around themes of particular interest such as, “Suggestions from overseas to make Japanese IRs successful” and “How can Japan attract customers from all over the world?”
There were also presentations on “The government’s roles and responsibilities to lead a successful IR project” and “Japanese-style responsible gaming practices for Problem Gambling Countermeasures”, plus discussions around the training of personnel and security issues.
A standout session, presented by Professor Kazuaki Sasaki of Toyo University’s Faculty of International Tourism, was titled “Creation of value and solving social issues in aiming for IR.”
In response to a question about Japanese society, which requires social reform, and what sort of new value will be created through an IR, especially one in a regional location, Professor Sasaki said, “The key is consumption, and by increasing the number of visitors and tourists, this also increases consumption.”
An IR representative from Wakayama said, “Wakayama is a prefecture with advanced issues, and we have to resolve each of those issues one by one. An IR bid will serve as a spark [for those resolutions] and create new employment. We will be able to attract many people to the prefecture and our rich tourism resources can reach their full potential.”
A government representative from Nagasaki noted the prefecture’s decreasing population and a sense of crisis among young people who have been increasingly moving out of the region.
“For Nagasaki, an IR bid is a once in a century opportunity,” he said. “We want to be the model of regional revitalization.”
As the operator selection processes are well underway, there is much to observe in the activities of the various local governments.
INSUFFICIENT DETAIL IN CASINO MANAGEMENT REGULATIONS
Toru Mihara, Chairman of the National Council on Gaming Legislation, and attorney Koji Ishikawa discussed the Casino Administration Committee’s draft casino regulations, which were published in early April.
“My conclusion is that there was lack of dialogue with the private sector; it’s old-fashioned and nonsense,” Mihara said after revealing he had read through the regulations no fewer than 30 times.
“The content is also unsympathetic, lacking in explanation and inconsistent.”
As an example, Mihara pointed to one particular regulation which stipulates that gaming chips cannot be removed from the casino floor.
“The operator needs to monitor and watch, but it is impossible to check each and every chip of a small amount,” he said.
OSAKA IR TO OPEN IN 2027?
Although absent from the Japan IR Forum Online after contracting COVID-19, Hiroshi Mizohata, chairman of the Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau, recorded a session shortly afterwards which was subsequently added to the event archives.
Speaking for over an hour on “The role of the World Expo and Osaka IR in achieving a Global Tourism Nation”, Mizohata said, “We are getting ready for our counter attack. Since the IR operator will be decided in September this year, we will work with the operator to make an area development plan.
“In 2022, tourism will return to pre-corona levels, with construction for the Expo starting in 2023 to be held in 2025. The IR will open later in 2027 or 2028.”
Mizohata also declared that there were no changes to plans to expand the Yumeshima rail access and establish direct access from Kansai International Airport and the Osaka/Umeda terminal.
“As an urban resort showcase, Yumeshima will dispatch guests to all corners of Japan. IR will be an engine of growth in making Japan a travel destination,” he said.