Referendum on Integrated Resort in Osaka, Japan Not Going To Happen

Opponents of casino gambling in Osaka, Japan, will have to look for another way to try to block a potential integrated resort (IR) in the area. Although they found enough support for a potential referendum on the matter, their attempt to stop the project has run into a brick wall.

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle in front of Osaka Business Park. The Osaka prefecture has rejected an attempt to introduce a referendum on its integrated resort plans. (Image: Fotolia)

Recently, an anti-casino group handed over a petition that gathered more than the requisite number of signatures to force a call-to-action in Osaka’s government. They wanted an official referendum to discuss the prefecture’s gambling future, citing errors and concerns over government spending.

The prefectural government reviewed the petition and voted on it last Friday. But, to no one’s surprise, the prefecture turned it down, and no referendum is coming.

Government IR Support Too Large

This wasn’t the first time Osaka saw a referendum request. The Osaka Council shot down a request a few months ago, but this didn’t stop the opposition from trying again.

As before, political parties Osaka Restoration Association and Komeito joined forces to block the initiative. Between the two, they hold a total of 63 prefectural assembly seats out of the 84 available. As such, any attempt to keep the IR project from moving forward was going to face a monumental hurdle.

Komeito is closely aligned with the Liberal Democratic Party, Japan’s ruling party and a primary driver of the IR industry. As such, the odds of the referendum advancing were never good.

Osaka’s governor, Hirofumi Yoshimura, stated early last month that, while he respected the opposition’s position, a referendum wasn’t necessary. That was a strong indication of what would eventually be the outcome.

The referendum would never have made a difference, even if it did find a way to advance. It is more of a way for people to voice their opinion on a subject. The government never has to side with the referendum backers, regardless of how much support there is.

IR Decisions Coming Soon

Japan has been working on the potential for legalized casinos for decades. However, it began taking a serious interest in IRs a few years ago after the government finally approved the necessary legislation. Initially, casino operators from across the globe descended on the country, hoping to be among the first to be included.

MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands, Caesars and more began opening local offices in different parts of the country to drum up support from the locals. However, four years later, there were only two locations still standing.

Nagasaki and Osaka submitted their project proposals to the national government in April; Yokohama, Wakayama and everyone else had already bowed out. Nagasaki partnered with Casinos Austria, while Osaka selected a consortium led by MGM Resorts.

Now, the two prefectures can only wait. The government can approve one or both of the projects, or it could decide to reject both. The decision is coming and could arrive by November. Additionally, in the future, it could approve other projects.

Japan’s IR program is already behind schedule. Initially, there was hope that the first venues might be ready by 2025. However, because of delays due to COVID-19 and other issues, it’s likely that the first IR won’t arrive until at least 2027 or 2028.

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