Tokyo guv dubious on casinos; Osaka forced to accept new pachinko parlor

japan-maruhan-pachinkoBloomberry Resorts and Hotels Inc. has confirmed that it’s keen to land a casino license in Japan, assuming the country’s politicians finally get around to passing the necessary legislation. Bloomberry, which operates the Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila’s Entertainment City, says it’s in talks with a potential Japanese partner, whose identity remains a closely guarded secret.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have finally offered a public endorsement of Japan’s casino push, but the governor of one of the more obvious sties of a casino isn’t quite convinced. On Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said adding a massive resort casino to Tokyo’s skyline was “not at the top of my agenda.”

Masuzoe dismissed the suggestion that “you must have casinos to improve the economy.” More to the point, Masuzoe said he believes Japan was rushing headlong into the arms of casino operators without sufficient debate regarding the potential downsides of expanded gambling options in Japan, including “money laundering and other things.” It’s not the first time Masuzoe has urged caution regarding casinos, having expressed similar sentiments in April.

Masuzoe’s counterpart in Osaka has made no secret of his desire to host one of Japan’s resort casinos, going as far as to identify a particular patch of ground on which such a development could be built. Whether or not Gov. Ichiro Matsui gets his casino, Osaka is guaranteed to get yet another pachinko parlor and some residents are less than pleased about it.

Way back in 2009, Kyoto-based pachinko giant Maruhan Corporation paid ¥1.4b (US $13.6m) to purchase a derelict piece of property that used to host the Festivalgate amusement park until its operator went bankrupt in 2004. A condition of Maruhan’s winning bid was a stipulation that it wouldn’t turn the property into a pachinko parlor for at least five years following the purchase, as Osaka officials were hoping for something epic to help revive the Kamigasaki area (considered the country’s biggest slum). Maruhan insisted that it wanted to build a ‘leisure center,’ then said it hoped to build a Korean-themed amusement park.

But the years went by and nothing whatsoever was built. Then the five-year pachinko moratorium expired earlier this year, after which Shukan Jitsuwa reported that Maruhan was planning to open a pachinko parlor on the site before the year was through. Despite widespread belief that pachinko will prove ineffective at breathing new economic life into the area, Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto said that “nothing can be done” to alter Maruhan’s plans, given that it had honored the five-year deal.

Critics are now saying this was Maruhan’s plan all along and that Osaka officials had been played like chumps. A local developer wondered what people had expected, given that Maruhan “does not have any sort of expertise” in anything other than pachinko or bowling. And what do those two pursuits have in common? Balls. A serious amount of balls.