Coronavirus forces Osaka to extend casino RFP deadline


Initially, the belief was that Japan would see at least one of its first three integrated resorts (IR) in 2024. This would have been perfect, especially if Osaka were among the three and was able to launch its project ahead of the World Expo to be held the following year. However, not long after the government began working on creating the necessary framework for the industry, it became apparent that seeing any casino in the country before 2025 was unrealistic. Thanks, in part, to the coronavirus, seeing a venue open in 2026 became a tenuous goal, and a recent decision by Osaka to extend the period for responding to a request for proposals (RFP) confirms the idea that 2027 might now be the estimated timeline.

Initially, the government of the Osaka prefecture was expected to have gathered all responses to its RFP by next month. However, it announced last Friday that it will allow three more months as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic. The government is still optimistic that it can realize its 2026 goal for the opening of an IR, but the current health situation is expected to force additional delays and that target is more than likely not going to be maintained.

Along with the delay in the RFP window, the decision on choosing a private-sector partner to participate in the project will be pushed back, as well. Previously expecting to make a decision sometime in June, the Osaka government will now need to allow for the additional three months to gather responses, and won’t be able to wrap things up until September. That partner will be working with MGM Resorts, the casino operator tentatively chosen by Osaka to spearhead the project.

Osaka already has the land picked out for the IR and is undeniably anxious to get the ball rolling. Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay, is the ideal location for a permanent casino resort, and is also where the World Expo is going to be held. Land destined to be used for the IR was to be turned over to authorities sometime during the fall of next year, but that deadline has been pushed out to the spring of 2022. This could potentially delay the casino development, as well.

Even if Osaka concludes its IR exercise, there is still more that has to be done before construction can begin. The Japanese national government has to sign off on all final plans, and it is currently dealing with an embarrassing scandal tied to the program. At least one politician is facing charges related to corruption and bribery, and this has given gambling opponents motivation to fight the rollout of the casinos. The coronavirus may have temporarily changed priorities in the country, but efforts to shut down the IR program are not going to go away.