Media Mix, July 31, 2021

Image of proposed IR in Yokohama

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the Yokohama mayoral election set for August 22. The main issue in the election, at least as far as the media is concerned, is Yokohama’s bid for an integrated resort-with-casino. The main issue for the residents of Yokohama, however, is the pandemic, which, of course, everyone wishes would end. It’s not clear if this contrast in perception will have any real effect on the outcome. As explained in the column, the media is fixated on the fact that most of the candidates are against the IR bid, meaning they are against having casino gambling in Yokohama, while the incumbent and one very minor candidate are in favor of the bid. The press thinks that the many anti-IR candidates will effectively dilute the vote, thus helping the incumbent, Fumiko Hayashi, win, even if she gets a relatively small percentage of the overall vote. But if the electorate doesn’t really care about IRs then they may base their decision on which candidate has the best plan to fight COVID, which, in truth, is really a national issue, since it depends on things like availability of vaccines and financial support for affected businesses. And, from what I’ve read, there doesn’t seem to be much difference from one candidate to another with regard to their ideas about addressing COVID. 

But what really makes the IR bid issue almost meaningless is that whatever ambitions Yokohama once had about building a casino are now seriously compromised. Until COVID is defeated, the city can’t hope to attract the large number of foreign tourists needed to justify an IR, and, in any case, they would need an operator to run the resort, and at the moment they don’t have any worthwhile candidates. Las Vegas Sands abandoned their bid to be the operator in May of last year; Wynn Resorts closed their Yokohama office last August and announced they were no longer interested in the Yokohama bid in January; and Hong Kong’s Galaxy Entertainment Group announced the same thing on June 17. Without a viable operator to construct and manage the IR, it’s difficult to see the central government choosing Yokohama as one of the first 3 locations for IRs; but, then again, the same thing seems to be happening with other candidates. Both Osaka City and Osaka Prefecture plan to apply for IR approval, but since the date for the approval keeps getting moved back, it seems unlikely they will be able to finish building an IR by 2025, when the Osaka Expo is supposed to take place, and that has always been the plan. The only really viable candidate right now is Wakayama, who had two operators competing for the bid until one dropped out on May 12, but the other, Clairvest Neem Ventures, has stayed in and has been confirmed as the partner in the proposed deal. The fact is, no one in Japan without a vested interest really cares about casino resorts right now, so if plans go ahead to build them it will likely just be through inertia, which is how a lot of public works projects in Japan proceed, come to think of it. 

*Addendum, Aug. 4, 2021: Yesterday, journalist Hajime Yokota, who was mentioned in the column, said on Democracy Times that Hachiro Okonogi would most likely win the mayoral election because he is a friend of Suga’s and, in fact, Suga doesn’t really care about casinos coming to Yokohama. The LDP wants Tokyo to get the IR nod, and while that doesn’t preclude Yokohama getting one also, it doesn’t make sense to have two IRs in such close proximity to each other. The thing is, Tokyo has yet to announce formally that it will apply for the bid, though everyone is expecting it to. That doesn’t mean casinos are going to be any more acceptable to the Japanese public, but it does make Suga’s job easier, since he doesn’t have to push an unpopular proposal onto his own constituency.

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