Japan on Friday approved a plan to build the country's first casino in the western city of Osaka, paving the way for a US$13.5 billion (about RM60 billion) resort set to open in 2029, aimed at attracting domestic and international tourist spending.
The giant resort complex located on Yumeshima, a reclaimed island in Osaka Bay due to hold the World Expo in 2025, will also include hotels, a conference centre, shopping mall, museum and ferry terminal, while high-rollers will have access to an adjacent helicopter pad.
Casinos were previously illegal in Japan along with other private gambling, but a 2018 integrated resort (IR) law provided exception to casino games such as poker or baccarat at officially approved establishments as part of an effort to attract tourists.
Japan is seen as a prized market for casino operators because of its affluent population of 126 million and proximity to Asia's wealthy gamblers, although opinion polls have shown many citizens worry about addiction and crime.
US casino operator MGM Resorts International and local partner Orix Corp have spearheaded the Osaka IR project, with each owning a 40% stake in the company set up to manage the complex.
Another 20 companies hold the remaining 20%, according to a local government document, which said MUFG Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp would provide ¥550 billion of project financing for the resort.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday said the project would contribute to the economic growth of the Kansai area around Osaka and greater Japan after World Expo 2025, as the country aims for a post-pandemic rebound in tourist spending.
The resort is targeting ¥520 billion of revenue annually, mostly from the gaming business, and forecasts it will attract 6 million international tourists and 14 million domestic visitors, the project document showed.
MGM Resorts, Orix and Osaka's city and prefecture governments said they welcomed the approval and would work together to develop the project.
The national government's decision came after the pro-casino Japan Innovation Party retained the prefectural governor and city mayor offices in Osaka on Sunday.
A Mainichi newspaper poll of Osaka residents this month found 45% of respondents in favour of the casino, 38% against and 17% undecided, although women and the elderly were more likely to be opposed.
Japan's casino plans were hampered in the past by the coronavirus pandemic and a bribery scandal that led to the arrest of a high-profile lawmaker. Major casino operators Las Vegas Sands Corp, Caesars Entertainment Corp and Wynn Resorts Ltd WYNN.Owithdrew from planned projects.
Only Osaka and the southwestern prefecture of Nagasaki submitted bids by an April 2022 deadline.
The government on Friday said it would need more time to review the Nagasaki plan, led by Casinos Austria International. It did not provide a reason.