After Yokohama picked an anti-IR candidate for mayor on Sunday, the race to host one of Japan’s three approved integrated resorts (IRs) is down to three municipalities, barring any surprises (Aug 22).

Municipalities interested in hosting IRs – mega-complexes including casinos, hotels, shopping malls, entertainment facilities, and exhibition spaces – will have from October till April next year to submit their proposals. By 2027, the first IRs should be available.

Despite the fact that experts believe Japan’s casino market could be worth up to US$25 billion (S$34 billion), the plan has been domestically controversial over fears that IRs may fuel gambling addiction.

Only four municipalities — Yokohama, Osaka, Wakayama, and Nagasaki – had been working on their bids, a time-consuming procedure that involves canvassing for casino operators and other stakeholders in drawing up concrete proposals.

Toyo University tourism management expert Kazuaki Sasaki told The Straits Times about Yokohama’s dropout that,

“The only IR to be in a metropolitan area will be Osaka. I don’t think other regions will be in time, given the tight schedule.”

Osaka is supporting a consortium led by MGM Resorts International of Las Vegas and Orix, a Japanese financial services group for an IR on the city’s Yumeshima island. The consortium plans to invest 1 trillion yen (S$12.4 billion) in the project, which will include a 100,000-square-meter hotel with 2,000 to 2,500 rooms.

Wakayama has chosen a subsidiary of the Clairvest Group, a Canadian company that operates casinos in Canada, the United States, and Chile.

The company has committed 470 billion yen to a 569,000 sq m site that includes a luxury hotel with 2,700 rooms.

Meanwhile, Nagasaki, on Kyushu’s south-west island, is collaborating with Casinos Austria on an IR to be built in Sasebo, near the Huis Ten Bosch theme park. Kyushu’s seven prefecture governors have supported the bid, which is expected to cost up to 460 billion yen to build.