December 2023 marks a significant milestone in Japan’s history, as the country might soon see its first-ever casino property open on the island nation.
After years of delays, rounds of legislation and preparations, construction has finally begun on Japan’s first integrated resort featuring a casino. The $8.6 billion (JPY1.27 trillion) Osaka IR project broke ground on December 15th, marking a historic milestone for the country as it enters the casino gaming industry.
Located on the 700-acre reclaimed island of Yumeshima, in Osaka Bay, the 52-acre integrated resort property is being built through a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and ORIX Corporation, along with a group of twenty local companies.
Site preparation is currently underway on Yumeshima Island to ready the area for development. The complex is scheduled to open sometime in 2030 and will include a casino, hotel, international conference hall, exhibition facilities, and a theater.
Grand Designs for a World-Class Integrated Resort
Initiated by Osaka’s prefectural government and city officials, the integrated resort will span an area of over fifty acres on Osaka Bay. It aims to attract millions of local and international visitors with its vast array of facilities.
The project is being developed through a joint venture consortium consisting of MGM Resorts International and ORIX Corporation, with each owner equal 42.5% stake. The remaining 15% ownership is controlled by minority investors, including West Japan Railway, Kansai Electric, Panasonic, and Osaka-based Sega Sammy Holdings.
As per initial plans approved earlier this year, the IR will include a luxury hotel, convention center, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The highlight is an MGM-operated casino with 3,500 slot machines and 200 gaming tables.
Encompassing 52 acres of prime waterfront real estate, the IR will not only house a luxurious casino but also encompass hotels, convention centers, restaurants, retail outlets, and entertainment venues. This ambitious undertaking aims to establish itself as a premier leisure and business destination, attracting both domestic and international visitors.
Phased Construction Timeline
Actual construction will take place across two phases expected to be completed by 2029. Phase 1 focuses on core facilities like the hotel, casino, theater, and retail space. Slated for a 2027 launch, this phase carries a budget of $2.3 billion.
Remaining venues like the artificial beach, water park, and multiple hotels will be built in Phase 2 by 2029.
Government Approvals and Timeline
For years, international casino operators, including Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts International, and Caesars Entertainment have approached Japanese authorities to enter a potentially lucrative market.
In 2016, Japan made a significant change in its stance towards casinos. Previously, it was the only major economy that prohibited them. However, the country passed legislation that year, opening the doors for the industry to become legal.
The Japanese parliament enacted a law in July 2018 to permit the development of integrated resorts to stimulate local economies and tourism. However, stringent application procedures were instituted to ensure regulation and oversight.
Only 3 integrated resort licenses are being approved nationwide. Analysts predict that three casino complexes could generate annual profits of $20 billion.
After receiving national government approval in 2021, the consortium had to clear local public referendums about the controversial topic of casinos. According to a nationwide survey conducted after the enactment of the 2018 legislation, 64.8% of participants expressed their disapproval towards the construction of casinos, whereas 27.6% showed their support, as reported by Guardian Magazine.
In April, a poll conducted by the Nikkei business newspaper revealed that 45% of Osaka residents favored the idea of hosting the resort, while 38% were opposed to it. Although initial surveys showed disapproval from Osaka citizens, officials continued awareness campaigns about the economic benefits.
Infrastructure Building Underway
Now that public perception has turned favorable, actual building has commenced within the 52-acre landfill site. Initial construction is focused on critical underground infrastructure. This includes foundation pilings, utilities installation, and rerouting of water channels.
Before construction begins, workers are reinforcing the ground and digging 230 feet to reach the bedrock for stability. Site preparation expenses are estimated to be $173 million. Osaka IR Corp. is financing the land readiness, with the city government committed to reimbursing them after the resort is completed.
According to project leaders, the artificial island base will be completed by early 2025. Superstructure facilities will then be constructed over the next two years leading up to the grand opening. Large-scale dredging and construction of retaining walls are shaping the artificial island to accommodate the integrated resort’s massive footprint.
Underground infrastructure like utilities and support facilities is also being installed. The first phase under development will include one of the three planned hotel towers, along with initial casino, meeting, and dining amenities. Subsequent phases will expand the facility over the coming years.
Economic Windfall on the Horizon
Industry analysts project that integrated resorts with casinos will provide a big boost to Japan’s recovering economy and international tourism. As per report findings, annual economic output will increase by over $12 billion across Osaka and other locations with approved IR projects.
The nation is forecasted to witness a sharp rise in foreign visitors as Casinos attract leisure travelers from China, South Korea, and Southeast Asia. The influx of big-spending VIPs and junket tours will also drive hospitality revenues.
Backers anticipate the development will provide a substantial financial injection upon completion. In addition to tax revenues, over 30,000 jobs are estimated to be created both directly and indirectly from the resort’s operations.
Barring any unforeseen setbacks, organizers aim to debut the first phase of the project in 2030 after over a decade of development.
The launch of construction for Japan’s inaugural casino represents a milestone as the country’s gaming industry takes shape. As Asia’s gambling market continues expanding, the Osaka integrated resort positions the nation to participate in this growing sector. It also stands to deliver large economic benefits to the local community upon opening its doors to visitors in 2030.