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Yokohama Protests Against Casinos: A Closer Look

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Casino operators from around the world gathered in Yokohama this week for the first-ever Japan IR Expo. However, amidst political corruption investigations, public support for integrated resorts (IR) in Japan continues to dwindle. Let’s delve into the latest developments surrounding this hot-button issue.

Anti-Casino Protests Take Center Stage

The Expo was not without its detractors. Anti-casino protesters flocked outside the exhibition hall, casting a shadow over the event. Inside Asian Gaming reports that one protester even managed to disrupt a keynote address by Yokohama’s deputy mayor, exclaiming, “we don’t need a casino.” Although promptly escorted back to his seat, the incident underscored growing opposition to IRs.

A Boost for Opposition

The Japanese public has never been particularly enthusiastic about the idea of IRs. However, their opposition gained momentum when Tsukasa Akimoto, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was arrested on Christmas day for alleged bribery from a potential casino operator. The arrest further dented public trust in the IR project.

Investigation into Casino Operator

Recently, Tokyo prosecutors raided the local office of Melco Resorts & Entertainment (MRE), a casino operator. The raid aimed to find evidence regarding Akimoto’s visit to an MRE casino in Macau and ascertain whether any under-the-table incentives were involved. While MRE is yet to issue a public statement, reports confirm that the company is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

Government’s Stance

Although rumors suggested that the government might freeze the IR process, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dismissed such speculations. Abe emphasized the importance of casinos in achieving Japan’s international tourism goals. However, he did propose incorporating regulations regarding contact between officials and casino operators into the IR guidelines.

Educating the Public

George Tanasijevich, an executive from Las Vegas Sands, voiced the need for better public education to dispel misconceptions surrounding the casino industry’s impact. This sentiment rings true, as a recent survey by Asahi Shimbun revealed that 63% of respondents opposed the government’s IR plans, with only 27% supporting their continuation. Even among President Abe’s supporters, only 36% favored casinos, while 50% advocated freezing the process.

In conclusion, the Japan IR Expo may have showcased the offerings of international casino operators, but it also served as a platform for anti-casino sentiments to take center stage. As the opposition gains momentum and public sentiment wavers, the future of integrated resorts in Japan remains uncertain.

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