Japan‘s road to building integrated resorts (IR) has been a long one, and the timeline to get casinos up and running could face a significant delay as a result of the coronavirus. COVID-19 is becoming so troublesome that the 2026 deadline to open the first resort-casino looks to be pure fantasy at this point.
This process has been facing a number of challenges. Request for proposals (RFPs) are to be submitted early this year, but there have been rumblings in the national government about canceling the entire process.
“No one knows what’s going to happen with the coronavirus today,” explained Brendan Bussmann, a partner and director of government affairs for Las Vegas-based Global Market Advisors. “If you and I were to sit down a month and a half ago when this started breaking at the beginning of Chinese New Year and becoming a real story, would you have ever imagined they would have shut down the casinos in Macao for two weeks? We don’t know, and I’ll let the health officials, the WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), predict what may or may not happen with this. But I can see a delay in the process because of this a little bit.”
One factor that may be a clear indicator is if the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are able to get underway on schedule. Should the virus become such a threat that the Olympics are closed down or postponed, this will almost certainly delay the RFP process even further.
This is another incredible speed bump in Japan’s process to open casinos. To begin the year, controversy arose when prosecutors began to investigate allegations of corruption involving legislators tasked with choosing which cities would receive casino licenses. That led to formal charges being lodged against former Liberal Democratic Party member Tsukasa Akimoto for allegedly accepting bribes.
To this point, only Osaka has provided an RFP, with several other locations considering entering a submission. The question becomes whether any of these locations will feel any pressure to speed up reading submitting their RFP. At this point, with even hotbed locations like Las Vegas seeing large numbers of cancellations due to fears related to the virus, it is easy to conclude that pushing for a resort-casino at this point will not be viewed as a major priority.