The government on Friday approved a plan to open what will be Japan's first casino resort in Osaka, marking a major advance in the nation's long-running saga over the introduction of so-called integrated resorts.
Under the plan put forward by the Osaka prefectural and city governments, the integrated resort, or IR, comprised of a large hotel, conference rooms and gambling areas, is expected to open on the artificial island of Yumeshima in Osaka Bay between the fall and winter of 2029.
"In addition to contributing to the development of the Kansai region following the 2025 World Exposition in Osaka, we hope (the casino) will become a tourism base that promotes Japan's charms to the world," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, while stressing the need for ministers to implement measures against gambling addiction.
The Osaka prefectural government said in a statement it would work to realize the IR as an "engine of sustainable economic growth in Osaka and Kansai," as well as a "catalyst for tourism and economic development in Japan as a whole."
The opening of the casino will be formally confirmed with the completion of various procedures, such as the signing of an agreement with a contractor, assessment by the Japan Casino Regulatory Commission and the granting of licenses.
But there is still a need to overcome persistent local worries about gambling addiction and a possible increase in crime. Around 150 local residents held a demonstration the same day.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism established a set of seven conditions -- which include periodically conducting research into gambling addiction to determine whether the implemented countermeasures are adequate -- in order to alleviate people's concerns.
The resort is expected to attract around 20 million visitors annually and bring in 1.14 trillion yen ($8.6 billion) in annual economic benefits to the region.
"The IR was one of our biggest election pledges," newly-elected Osaka Mayor Hideyuki Yokoyama told reporters, adding he will seek to promote awareness that entry will be restricted for Japanese nationals to three times a week to prevent people developing an addiction.
MGM Resorts International of the United States and Japan's Orix Corp. hold a 40 percent stake each in the project's operator, and the remainder is held by firms based in the region, including Panasonic Holdings Corp., Daikin Industries Ltd., Osaka Gas Co. and West Japan Railway Co.
Meanwhile, a similar plan submitted by Nagasaki Prefecture to host an IR remains under review.
Nagasaki Gov. Kengo Oishi told a press conference there is a "good chance that the plan will be approved."
"Attracting an IR is an important issue for the prefectural government," he said.
Authorities from both Osaka and Nagasaki last year submitted plans to the central government to open casinos in their respective regions.
An expert panel of the tourism ministry assessed the plans based on a 1,000-point scale that required a score of at least 600 points to gain approval.
Osaka's plan received 657.9 points after assessments of its policies regarding the construction of an international conference center and the positive economic effects the wider project is likely to bring.
But the panel called for continued monitoring, given there are concerns about land subsidence and soil contamination, and said effective measures to prevent gambling addiction were also needed.
Nagasaki's plan included opening a casino at its Dutch-themed Huis Ten Bosch seaside resort. It estimated the facility could draw 8.4 million visitors annually and bring in 330 billion yen in economic benefits to the southwestern Japan region.
However, uncertainty about the prefecture's scheme for securing funding is believed to be a reason why the review of Nagasaki's proposal is dragging on.