Osaka officials announced Thursday that the city was pushing back its request-for-proposal (RFP) deadline by another six months, a move that could delay the opening of a casino there until 2028.
Potential private sector partners now have until January 2021 to submit proposals for an integrated resort in the Osaka prefecture, as officials had previously set a July RFP deadline.
Osaka Won’t Meet World Expo Casino Goal
This marks the second time that the RFP deadline has been postponed. While officials haven’t declared a specific reason for the delays, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic through Japan is a likely reason.
While Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the emergency order in Osaka two weeks ago, and the state of emergency in Tokyo and Hokkaido – the final areas impacted – expired a few days later, health and safety measures have still made traveling for business difficult throughout the country.
Osaka officials may also be attempting to create a more competitive RFP process. Currently, only one consortium has submitted a qualified application: MGM Resorts International, which is working in concert with Orix, a Japanese financial services group.
Initially, Osaka officially wanted to attempt to open a casino before the World Expo 2025, which will be hosted in the city. But delays in both the legislative process and the RFP phase have made that impossible. On Thursday, Osaka mayor Ichiro Matsui said that city officials now believe that the earlier an IR could open would be in the second half of 2027, and 2028 may be a more realistic goal.
National IR Deadline Rapidly Approaching
It’s unlikely that Osaka officials will extend their RFP period much further. The central Japanese government will begin taking IR implementation plans on Jan. 4, 2021, with a deadline of July 30, 2021. While that timeframe once seemed generous, local governments now must move quickly to select partners and develop proposals in an effort to secure one of the three IR casinos coming to Japan.
“Assuming that travel restrictions are eased enough within the next two months, there is just enough time for local governments to select their IR partner and come up with a reasonably sound business plan to submit to the central government,” Joji Kokuryo, managing director of Bay City Ventures in Tokyo, told The Japan Times last month.
Local governments and operators which can generate compelling plans should have a good chance of securing one of the available licenses. The level of competition has dropped in recent weeks, as Las Vegas Sands decided in May that it would no long pursue a Japanese casino. Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson cited issues with the nation’s policy framework which made the company’s goals “unreachable” in Japan.
Despite that withdrawal, several heavy hitters remain in the hunt for a Japanese casino slot. Along with MGM, Melco Resorts, Wynn, Genting, Hard Rock, and other major operators are still showing interest in Japan, with Yokohama seen by many as the most attractive location for a resort.