COVID-19: Japan Likely to Delay Casino Resort Licensing

  • Tourism Minister indicated potential postponement of January-July 2021 IR applications period
  • Concerned about post-pandemic state of IR operators planning to partner with local governments
  • Osaka, Yokohama, Wakayama, Nagasaki are the four main candidates for casino resort licenses
  • Central government's Basic Policy for IR resorts has missed its July 26 deadline
  • Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts among operators to pull out of license race over delays
wooden dice spell out postpone
Japan is likely to delay its casino resort applications process in light of the effects of COVID-19 on IR operators and local governments. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

An uncertain time frame

Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, Kazuyoshi Akaba, has indicated that the certification application period for integrated resort (IR) licenses in the country may be postponed.

The applications process was originally set to take place between January and July 2021. However, a decision to delay it is now likely as local governments and IR operators continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. 

IR operators who have partnered with local governments are in a difficult situation”

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, the Tourism Minister said: “Some IR operators who have partnered with local governments are in a difficult situation due to the impact of COVID-19, and there have been opinions expressed that the future is uncertain.” He added that action will follow upon determining the situation with local governments.

Delays to the process

Currently, there are four main locations in the country that are looking to develop an integrated resort. These are Osaka, Yokohama, Wakayama, and Nagasaki.

Each of these candidates has already postponed their Request for Proposal (RFP) processes. Their actions came in the wake of the pandemic, as well as in response to uncertainty regarding the central government’s release timeline for the integrated resorts Basic Policy. 

The original deadline for issuing the Basic Policy was July 26. There is now no definitive date, with the potential postponement of the application process likely to cause further issues.

Once the policy is published, local governments and operators will be hoping for a timetable indicating the development of the said casino resorts. 

Operators pulling out

Some operators have also recently pulled out of the race to work with local governments on these integrated resorts. There are a total of three IR licenses available.

The license application process marks the first phase of opening up the gambling sector in Japan after legislation on the issue was passed in 2018. While there has been significant interest from a lot of casino companies, the global casino sector has been hit hard by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Las Vegas Sands withdrew its bid for a license in Yokohama in May, while Wynn Resorts confirmed last week it would be closing its office in Yokohama. Wynn still holds a long-term interest in having a presence in Japan, but it does not plan to enter this market in the foreseeable future. 

MGM Resorts International is the only candidate remaining in Osaka. While it still plans to pursue a license, it may also pull out if the possible return on investment is not as attractive due to the fallout from the pandemic.