Thursday, August 11, 2022

Yokohama mayoral contender votes no casino


Kazuyoshi Nagashima, a former mayor of a small city and one-term House of Representatives lawmaker, is at present the only openly declared candidate for the July 30 election to become Mayor of Yokohama. His main campaign slogan is a succinct two words: NO CASINO!!!

Last year, incumbent Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi had repeatedly described locating an IR in the Minato Mirai district of her city as being “a powerful means of securing tax revenue” and even as “necessary for the sustainable development of Yokohama.” But within a couple of weeks of Nagashima announcing his candidacy in mid-January under the anti-casino banner, Mayor Hayashi changed her tune. She stated in a January 25 press conference that it would be “considerably difficult to make concrete moves” toward hosting an IR and declared that “it’s very important to have a policy to combat addiction; we need to examine this issue as the city government.”

No one believes that Mayor Hayashi has actually lost her enthusiasm for hosting an IR in Yokohama, but she has clearly calculated that it would be politically unwise to base her reelection campaign on a pro-casino stance. She is expected to stand for re-election but as yet has not declared her candidacy.

While her opponent Nagashima looks set to try to cast this election as a referendum on casinos, incumbent Mayor Hayashi is playing down the issue and will attempt to fight on the stronger ground of her overall record after eight years leading this major Japanese city.

Asia Gaming Brief recently sat down with mayoral candidate Kazuyoshi Nagashima to discover the reasons for his anti-casino stance. Nagashima cited many issues, but they seemed to boil down to the following three.

First of all, he refers to gambling addiction, which seems to be the top concern of the Japanese public as a whole when it considers the IR issue. Essentially, Nagashima doubts that the government will be willing or able to implement robust anti-addiction policies in Japan. He accepts that Singapore may have been successful in this regard, but attributes it to that country’s near-dictatorial political system and its tight information control over its citizens. In Japan, Nagashima notes, the public is far more resistant to having the authorities collect information about specific families and individuals, and so policies intended to exclude gambling addicts from casinos are likely to be less effective in this country.

Second, Nagashima observes that there is no guarantee that Mayor Hayashi is correct that hosting an IR will enhance the city’s revenues. He cites Detroit as an example of failure in this business. More concretely, he asserts that gambling in Japan, mostly pachinko at present, is linked to the expansion of people receiving public welfare payments. If a casino in Yokohama adds 5 percent more people to the local welfare rolls, that alone would likely transform an IR into a balance sheet negative for the city.

Finally, Nagashima raises some qualitative issues which are more difficult to measure. He suggests there are moral dimensions, including the responsibility of politicians and government officials to refrain from implementing any policies that might contribute to the misfortune of the weakest and most vulnerable citizens. If some people will win at gambling, others must lose. At any rate, Yokohama is already a city possessing rich art and culture, and it is through the development of those aspects that the city should advance. Yokohama has too much pride, he asserts, to be seen as place in which the community’s prosperity is based upon the revenues of gambling.

A video of Nagashima speaking in his own words is available here.

As the challenger running against a relatively popular incumbent, Nagashima is fighting an uphill battle to win his mayoral election, but his candidacy built upon an anti-casino message is likely to be a harbinger for other local elections in Japan.

The position of Wakayama Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka illustrates the dilemma from a different perspective. While Governor Nisaka is personally very eager to locate a small IR in the Marina City district of his prefecture, he suggests that entry to the casino section of the IR should be limited to foreign nationals. Nisaka cites public fears about gambling addiction as being too difficult to directly confront, and so he believes that banning Japanese nationals from the casino would make the project palatable to the local community.

Without saying so directly, Governor Nisaka seems to be dropping hints that his stance is merely tactical. Reading between the lines of how he phrases and qualifies his comments, he appears to suggest that the ban on Japanese nationals would only be a first step in order to get the IR built at Marina City, and at some point after it had been firmly established, then the casino might open its doors to everyone.

A video interview with Governor Nisaka is here.

Ed Bowers, Senior Vice President of Global Gaming Development for MGM Resorts International, has been outspoken at several venues in declaring that most international operators would have no interest in major IR investments if the casino area excludes Japanese nationals. Additionally, House of Representatives lawmaker Sakihito Ozawa, a strong advocate for IRs, suggests that while the forthcoming legislation will likely permit local governments to institute bans on Japanese entry to casinos, that any such proposed project is unlikely to be granted one of the handful of licenses that will be issued by the central government.

Locating IRs in Japan is almost certainly going to become a very politically contentious matter in the months and years ahead. A key factor dividing success from failure will be whether or not the anti-addiction measures instituted by the national and local governments are seen by the general public as being credible.

 

Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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