Japan: Osaka Gov. says delays won’t have “much effect” on country’s first casino

Ongoing delays in its opening date won’t hurt Japan’s first casino, said Hirofumi Yoshimura, Governor of Osaka, where MGM expects to have a resort up and running in 2030. The company will thus be opening its much-awaited property five years later than first planned, with a groundbreaking expected by early next year.

According to Yoshimura, the years of delay won’t have an adverse effect on the project in the long run. “There would have been a lot of synergy if it could have opened at the same time as the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo,” Yoshimura said in an interview Monday, as reported by Bloomberg. “But a time lag of five years won’t have much effect on the project itself.”

Osaka’s plan for an “integrated resort” featuring a casino, hotels, entertainment and conference space gained government approval in April. But as Japan takes its time with the opening, neighbors including Singapore, Macau and South Korea are also taking measures to increase tourism, which could put pressure on the Osaka project.

According to Yoshimura, Osaka will set itself apart from the other destinations by making the most of the history and culture of the region, and the country as a whole. The Governor further said he expects the facility will not only drive tourism but also make “a substantial contribution” to Osaka’s economy.

“Kansai is an area very deep in history,” he said, as per the cited source. “Traditional Japanese culture is something you don’t get in Macau, Singapore or South Korea. And those unique points are what we will promote from the resort.”

Despite Japanese politicians pushing for casinos for decades, no resorts have yet been built. Thus, the country’s potential gaming market – estimated at $20 million – remains untapped and has lost some of its lustre, leading to some casino companies pulling out. However, as for Japanese residents, latest polling in Osaka shows opposition to the idea is fading, a positive development for stakeholders in the project.

Gaming and hospitality giant MGM Resorts International is partnering with Japanese financial services firm Orix Corp on the Osaka project. The initial investment in the resort, to be developed on Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay, will be ¥1.08 trillion ($7.9 billion). MGM CEO William Hornbuckle said this month construction is likely to begin late this year or early in 2024, with the facility set to open in the first half of 2030, a slight further delay from a 2029 target set earlier.

Among the factors contributing to the delay in the opening of the country’s first casino are concerns over addiction and public safety. While Japan already allows betting on horse, bike and motorboat racing, casinos have traditionally been off-limits. This doesn’t mean, however, that the Japanese don’t like gambling at physical properties: pachinko pinball parlors, a form of gambling similar to arcades and slot machines, are common throughout the country.

“This IR is a very important first step for Japan in terms of changing the impression among the Japanese public,” said Jay Defibaugh, an analyst with CLSA in Tokyo. “That’s certainly what Marina Bay Sands and also the Sentosa project did for Singapore. It helped to bring people in. It helped to change the image of Singapore to a place that people can have more fun.”