Japan govt. expected to approve plans for its first casino in Osaka’s man-made Yumeshima island

Japan is poised to take a significant step towards becoming an Asian gambling destination as the government prepares to approve the nation’s first casino resort in Osaka. The integrated resort, which includes hotels and conference halls, is scheduled to open in late 2029, marking a major milestone in the country’s efforts to attract tourists and boost its economy.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government is expected to sign off on the proposal submitted by local authorities as early as Friday, as reported by the Japan Times. The approval comes as travel restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic are lifted, prompting local governments to reassess the idea of attracting tourists to integrated resorts (IRs) that feature large hotels, conference rooms, and gambling areas.

The Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka aim to open the facility between the fall and winter of 2029 on the artificial island of Yumeshima in Osaka Bay. The resort, a partnership between MGM Resorts International of the United States and Japan’s Orix, is expected to attract around 20 million visitors annually and bring ¥1.14 trillion ($8.5 billion) in annual economic benefits to the western Japan region centering on the prefecture.

Nagasaki Prefecture has also submitted a plan to host an IR, but the task force is likely to postpone any decision on the basis that it requires more time to further assess the details, according to the above-mentioned media.

In 2018, a law was enacted that allowed for the development of up to three IRs. However, plans to stimulate the economy through casinos faced public opposition largely due to concerns about the negative impacts of gambling. Momentum was also slowed by procedural delays amid the pandemic, withdrawals of foreign operators, and a graft scandal that led to the arrest in 2019 of a lawmaker who campaigned for casino legalization.

The approval of the Osaka plan, which had been expected last year, was also delayed due to concerns over liquefaction risk and soil contamination on Yumeshima. The plan is expected to get conditional approval, according to local news.

Building a casino is key to Japan’s hopes of capturing resurgent tourism demand and doubling the number of foreign visitors compared with pre-pandemic levels to 60 million by 2030. The government is slated to approve up to three integrated resort locations, with the bid submitted by Nagasaki prefecture still under review.