A recent Kyodo News survey shows that nearly 71 percent of those polled in Japan believe their government should re-examine plans to embrace integrated resorts amid a cloud of bribery that has enmeshed several politicians and a Chinese gaming firm.
The survey, conducted this weekend by the news outlet, published that 70.6 per cent of those surveyed want the Japanese government to revisit the effort to open up Asia’s second-largest economy to gaming venues. Just over 21 percent of those polled believe that plans to accept casino gaming will continue in the country.
“In the meantime, Tsukasa Akimoto, a former member of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and proponent of casino resorts in Japan, was arrested in December on suspicion of receiving 3.7 million yen ($33,800) in bribes from Chinese gambling operator 500.com Ltd.,” reports Kyodo News.
The Integrated Resorts Promotion Act (IRPA) was enacted in 2016, setting the stage for regulated casinos in the Land of the Rising Sun. Nonetheless, swirling rumours of corruption have prompted some lawmakers there to initiate an IRPA opposition bill, due to be launched on January 20.
On Christmas day, Tsukasa Akimoto, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was arrested by the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s office. Akimoto, who directed Japan’s casino gaming policy from August 2017 to October 2018, is accused of taking cash, airfare and hotel rooms at the centre of the scandal from 500.com, the online Chinese and sports betting company.
Japanese authorities believe that Akimoto disbursed some of that cash to five other politicians in the country, and that the bribery was designed to help 500.com secure a licence in Hokkaido Prefecture. Governor Naomichi Suzuki, of Hokkaido, withdrew the city from consideration for a gaming venue in November, citing environmental concerns.
Chiba Mayor Toshihito Kumagai said his city is also leaving the gaming venue competition, last week.
The idea to revisit Japan’s ambition for casino gaming comes as many are worried about the economic outlook for the region. More than 86 percent of Kyodo News surveyed respondents said they are “nervous” or “somewhat anxious” about the outlook for the third-largest economy in the world.
Lawmakers are hoping that integrated resorts will boost tourism and the conference and meeting industries in Japan that have fallen behind rival nations in Asia.
For Japan’s casino aspirations, the bribery scandal and subsequent negative sentiment that accompanies it arrived at tricky times. Opposition to integrated resorts, for example, persists in Yokohama, one of the most popular destinations for the operators.
Speculation has recently escalated that even some of the biggest gaming companies competing for Japanese licences are becoming increasingly concerned about the costs associated with the ventures.
The country’s floor for a high-end gaming property tends to be $10 billion, and by some estimates may reach as high as $15 billion.
Even at the low end of that range, the most expensive venue of its kind ever built would be a single Japanese integrated resort, and cost more than multiple Las Vegas Strip properties combined.