Hokkaido may pull out of race to host casino resort

Thursday 28th November 2019

SAPPORO (Kyodo) -- Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido is considering forgoing making a bid to host newly legalized casino resorts partly due to environmental concerns, government sources said Thursday.

Gov. Naomichi Suzuki is expected to announce a decision Friday to the Hokkaido assembly, according to the sources. Suzuki has said a decision on whether to set up a casino at a candidate site in Tomakomai would be made by the end of the year after some residents voiced concerns about the environmental impact of building a so-called integrated resort housing a large hotel and conference rooms.

Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a majority force in the assembly, and those close to them have not taken a clear position on the issue, with some cautious about Hokkaido hosting such a resort.

"We haven't reached a conclusion yet. We'll make a decision after due consideration," Suzuki told reporters Thursday.

A citizens' group opposing casino construction has collected some 20,000 signatures for a petition to the city government of Tomakomai.

While major Hokkaido business lobbies have expressed support for the casino bid to promote the economy, a recent survey of residents by the Hokkaido government showed that two-thirds of respondents have worries about having a casino resort.

After laws to allow casino gambling cleared parliament last year, Yokohama, Osaka Prefecture together with Osaka city, Wakayama Prefecture and Nagasaki Prefecture have declared their candidacies to host a casino resort.

The central government plans to pick three locations or so to open casino resorts after accepting formal applications between January and July 2021 from local and prefectural governments together with resort operators selected through open recruitment.

Hokkaido, Tokyo, Chiba city and Nagoya have expressed interest in hosting a casino.

The country's 47 prefectures and 20 major cities are eligible to apply. The first group of successful candidates are expected to start operating their casinos in the mid-2020s.

Under the Japanese government's scale requirement for such a resort, an operator will need a hotel larger than existing luxury hotels in Tokyo and a convention center capable of accommodating 3,000 people with a 60,000-square-meter exhibition space.

The government has said it will pick cities capable of attracting more foreign visitors to the country as it aims to attract 60 million travelers from abroad in 2030.

It has pledged measures to address problem gambling including limited admission into the facilities by Japanese citizens.

Local concerns grew about resort construction at the Tomakomai candidate location due to its proximity to Lake Utonai, a wildlife sanctuary and a site on the Ramsar Convention list of internationally important wetlands.

It usually takes about three years to conduct an environmental impact assessment, raising questions about whether the Hokkaido government can complete it in time for application.

The city assembly of Tomakomai passed a resolution last month backing the casino plan, hoping to create new jobs and prop up the local economy.

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