On Friday 8 July 2022, former prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe was shot and killed on the campaign trail as he advocated for his party for the 10 July upper house elections. He was 67 years old.
Abe most recently held office for 2,822 consecutive days. When combined with his first stint, he was prime Minister for a total of 3,188 days, making him the longest serving of all 64 prime ministers in Japan’s history.
And while his impact was wide-reaching, among his major accomplishments was making long-stalled casino legislation a reality. It is tragically ironic that Abe will not be here to see his efforts made official with the national government expected to announce in just two short months whether Osaka and/or Nagasaki will be granted Japan’s first IR development licenses.
It was Abe who both bidding parties can thank should they ultimately prove successful.
Japan’s first real discussions over IRs began during Democratic party rule between the first and second Abe cabinets (2009 to 2012). The IR Working Team established in 2011 kicked off the discussions, all around the time that Singapore was opening its two integrated resorts – Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and Resorts World Sentosa – which are said to be the model upon which Japan’s IR concept is based.
The LDP regained control of the central government in December 2012 and the second Abe cabinet began.
In 2014, Abe went to see MBS with his own eyes and stated, “I hope we can achieve the goal of increasing [foreign tourist visitors to Japan] to 10 million or 20 million by the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, and this type of facility will be key in Japan’s growth strategy.” IR considerations were incorporated into the “JAPAN IS BACK” growth strategy, which was decided by the cabinet in June of that year.
It was December 2016, under Abe’s third cabinet, when the IR Promotion Act was established. It defined an IR as, “A zone in which integrated facilities bring together tourism promotion and local activities,” and regulates, “They will be operated by private operators under appropriate supervision and control by the government.” This was the first bill to allow the formerly prohibited casinos in Japan and moved the country one step closer to realizing its IR dream.
In March 2017 the government established the Headquarters for Promoting Development of Specified Complex Tourist Facilities Areas with Prime Minister Abe as the director. Then, in July 2018, the IR Implementation Act was established under the fourth Abe cabinet. The objective of this law is, “To utilize casino profits to achieve long-stay tourism in Japan with internationally competitive and appealing features by promoting maintenance of the specified complex tourist facility areas that makes use of the local ingenuity and dynamism of the private sector.”
It also mentions restrictions on entrance frequency, the level of entry fees and taxation on the operators. In December 2019 the Basic Policy was announced, laying out the standards that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) would use for selecting up to three development sites and the Japan Casino Regulatory Commission was established the following month.
This was in early 2020, when Abe also led Japan amidst a pandemic as COVID-19 spread around the world. He would only stay in office until that September, however, when he resigned due to ulcerative colitis. He gave up the role of prime minister on his 2,822nd consecutive day in office. His successor Yoshihide Suga took over in the middle of the pandemic before Fumio Kishida was voted in just over a year later, in November 2021.
Due to COVID, the IR bid application period was postponed by nine months, with operators given a seven-month period from 1 October 2021 to 28 April 2022 within which to submit their final bids to the central government, but the basic policy itself has not changed.
Unfortunately, this contributed to the fact that Abe died without being able to see the fruits of his IR vision. However, his legacy will live on and if either Osaka or Nagasaki is approved later this year, Japan’s first IR is expected to open its doors late this decade – a standing monument to the work of Shinzo Abe.
Rest in peace.