Wakayama Makes Strong Case for Lucrative Casino Resort License

Shirahama Beach in Wakayama Prefecture, Kansai, Japan
Wakayama has a strong case for obtaining one of the three casino resort licenses in Japan.

30-second summary

  • Japan has three resort casino licenses available
  • Many global casino companies are pushing hard for consideration
  • Various regions and cities are competing to earn a license
  • Osaka is seen as the favorite, but Wakayama is making a strong case

Japan’s casino resort licenses

For many years, there has been an anti-gambling culture in Japan. However, this began to change when commercial casinos were legalized late in 2016. Lawmakers had been going back and forth on this issue for almost two decades.

It did not take long for resort casinos to be given the green light at the end of the 2018 legislative session. Despite many attempts to derail it, the bill was approved.

Three resort casino licenses are available. These are lucrative licenses, each having the potential to earn revenues of many billions of dollars each year. The development costs for these resort casinos will be in the range of $8bn-$10bn (£6.1m-7.6m).

The bidding process for these licenses is yet to begin. However, many global casino companies and cities in Japan are already pushing their cases. The authorities are developing a proper framework for the application process.

With increasing levels of problem gambling in Japan, they want to ensure that measures are in place to help curb this problem. They are looking at many innovative new measures, including facial recognition technology to spot problem gamblers who are trying to enter a gambling facility.

Stern competition

Naturally, most of the major global casino companies would benefit massively from obtaining an operating license for one of the resort casinos. MGM Resorts International is already going to great lengths to be positioned for success.

Osaka is seen as the city with the best chance of receiving one of these licenses, so MGM is focusing its efforts in Osaka by opening an office in the city.

The company has appointed Brian Sandoval, the former governor of Nevada, to head its global gambling department. He has a lot of experience in the gambling sector, having also been the head of the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Sandoval is familiar with dealing with politicians and he has experience in Japan, having been there on a trade mission in August 2018.

Osaka is one of the clear favorites because the World Expo is coming to the city in 2025 and land is available on which a casino can be built. However, since there are three licenses up for grabs, so there is plenty of competition among other cities.

The case for Wakayama

Wakayama, which is east of Osaka, recently held a forum that attracted more than 300 people to discuss the resort casinos. There was talk of the aggressive approach the city has taken to win one of the licenses.

A number of notable casino resort operators attended the forum. Many already have a site in mind on an artificial island known as Marina City.

It is only a quick drive from downtown and the island has great tourist facilities. There is also a harbor for yachts, along with facilities for cruise ships and ferries that connect to the airport. The region already attracts 33.4 million visitors annually.

The government appears to be keen on having a casino resort at a location near the sea. 

Main selling point

The main selling point for Wakayama is Kansai, which is the second most populous region in the country, with nearly 23m inhabitants. Wakayama City is only a half-hour drive from the Kansai International Airport.

One of the downsides is that it is unlikely that two licenses will go to cities in nearby regions. However, many believe that having resort casinos in both of these places would be complementary. Like MGM in Osaka, France’s Barriere casino group is focusing its efforts on Wakayama.

There is a lot to ponder, especially with the bidding process likely to be a year away. Wakayama certainly has a lot in its favor because it offers easy access to a large urban population while still being a regional location.