The head of the Japan Casino Regulatory Commission plans to run on an anti-gaming platform in hopes of becoming the next mayor of Yokohama.
In a shocking announcement, Hachiro Okonogi, a longtime member of the National Diet’s House of Representatives, revealed his intent to run against incumbent Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi. Okonogi is a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Tokyo, and serves in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s current cabinet.
Okonogi chairs the National Public Safety Commission, and in that role assumed the position of minister in charge of the Casino Regulatory Commission. The agency is responsible for governing operations at Japan’s three forthcoming casinos.
Suga’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, long supported integrated resort casinos (IR). Suga has pledged to continue those wishes, the goal of the casino complexes to increase tourism in Japan.
Okonogi detracting from the central government’s LDP came as a surprise. But opposition in his home city continues to increase.
Mayoral Race Could Determine IR
Hayashi has held varying opinions on Yokohama entering the IR race. She initially supported allowing city residents to decide, but later said a referendum would only further slow the development of a casino in Japan’s second largest city.
In January, the Yokohama City Council certified more than 200,000 signatures from the Yokohama Citizens’ Group to Decide on a Casino. The committee wants Yokohama to decide whether to bid on one of the three IR licenses in Japan based on the outcome of the vote.
But unlike in the US, ballot referendums in Japan have no legal consequence. Instead, they are more about public opinion. Hayashi says the casino resort would be in the best interest of the region, and a ballot election on the matter would be costly and delay it coming to fruition.
It is important to proceed steadily,” the mayor said earlier this year. “You might think of Yokohama as this big, rosy city known for hosting a wide variety of events. But every year we find ourselves saddled with deficits.”
The 86-person Yokohama City Council, controlled by the LDP, in January rejected allowing the referendum to move forward.
The Yokohama mayoral election will be held in mid-August. If Okonogi wins, he says he would depart the Suga cabinet, and the House seat he’s held since 1993.
Yokohama has no term limits for its mayor, but history has shown that most leave after serving a third four-year term. The last mayor to work a fourth term was Ichiyo Asukata, who was mayor from 1963 through March of 1978.
At the age of 75, there are concerns regarding Hayashi’s age and health. But being the only IR supporter among the crowded mayoral race — which currently numbers six candidates — the anti-casino runners could see their votes split, and result in Hayashi leading Yokohama for another four years.
“The election of the mayor of Yokohama is likely to have an enormous impact on how the future of integrated resorts play out across Japan,” opined Inside Asian Gaming. If Yokohama folds on a casino, Tokyo is rumored to consider jumping in.
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