World Gaming Insight

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Hopes of potential Hokkaido IR bid renewed as prefecture approves new candidate site for environmental impact assessment

Hokkaido has taken a significant step towards potential resurrection of its IR bid after Tomokomai City identified 100 hectares in the Uenae area near Chitose Airport as a candidate site.

World Gaming Insight has been told a “certain understanding” was received from Hokkaido prefecture regarding the environmental assessment, which had been one of the roadblocks to an IR bid.

“The prefecture agreed with us about the designated site, just in case there were to be an IR bid and we got approval,” a city official said. “We have re-designated the Uenae area as a candidate site and have made progress toward a bid.”

Details of the discussions with Hokkaido prefecture are scheduled to be reported on 10 December at the General Development Special Committee of the regular city council meeting. Any applications for an IR designated area to the country would need to come from the prefectural level.

In November last year, Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki announced the prefecture was withdrawing from Japan’s IR race, citing considerations of the natural environment. However, Governor Suzuki had made clear there was a possibility of a future IR bid “when the time was right.”

The city and prefecture have since discussed various possibilities regarding an IR bid. According to a local newspaper, based on an independent environmental impact survey by the city and additional subsequent surveys by landowners, it has been determined by the prefecture that it is possible to avoid or significantly mitigate the impact on animal and plant life, leading to approval of an assessment. The plan is to include requirements for environmental measures as part of the operator selection criteria.

The policy is to give maximum possible consideration to Lake Utonai with infrastructure development, to not use groundwater and for public water supply and sewage lines to be laid at the expense of the city. In principal, each road connecting to the airport and Tomakomai city would also be maintained by the city.

According to estimates by the city, the cost for maintenance would be approximately JPY7.8 billion (US$74.8 million) for water and sewage and about JPY10 billion (US$95.9 million) for surrounding roads. Electricity and gas supplies must also be obtained.

The city official said, “Once development begins, the city would bear those expenses and after that it would be the responsibility of Hokkaido prefecture and the operator.”

The Revised Basic Policy announced by the government in September has postponed the national IR application period due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially scheduled for January to July 2021, it is now scheduled for October 2021 to April 2022.

With extra time and the potential for a solution to the issue of environmental impact, there is hope for a renewed attempt at a bid by Hokkaido. The Tomakomai city official was enthusiastic, stating, “We dropped out once, but with a delayed application schedule, we have a chance. Perhaps we can make it in time.”

Three areas within Japan will be certified for an IR after the bidding process with Yokohama city, Osaka city and prefecture, Wakayama prefecture and Nagasaki prefecture all currently intending to apply to the national government.

Hokkaido had been seen as an attractive regional opportunity by a number of international operators including Hard Rock International, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment and Rush Street.

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