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Yokohama enters race to host Japan casino resort as 4th contender

Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi (Mainichi)

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) -- The city of Yokohama said Thursday it will seek to host a newly legalized casino resort in Japan, throwing its hat into the intensifying bidding race with three other contenders.

Amid some opposition about its potential harmful influence, such as gambling addiction and deterioration of public safety, Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi said the city, located near Tokyo, with the second-largest population in the country aims to open a so-called integrated resort comprising casinos, hotels and shopping facilities in the late 2020s.

"With the city's fiscal condition expected to be more severe, we've decided an integrated resort is needed for us to leap forward," Hayashi, who had previously said its stance about the bidding was "a blank slate," said at a press conference.

Foreign casino operators were quick to react to the populous port city's decision.

"It's very exciting indeed to hear the news of Yokohama's desire to develop an integrated resort," said Hong Kong-based Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd. CEO Lawrence Ho. "Its location, communication links, vibrancy and pioneering spirit make it an extremely attractive site for a development of this scale and visibility."

He said in a statement that the company will open a new office in Yokohama to build the "world's greatest integrated resort."

Las Vegas Sands Corp. said it will no longer pursue an opportunity to develop an integrated resort in Osaka, Japan's third-largest city.

"We think an investment in Tokyo or Yokohama gives us the best opportunity," Sheldon Adelson, the U.S company's CEO, said in a statement.

Under the integrated resorts promotion law enacted in July last year, the Japanese government plans to see the first group of those resorts open at up to three areas in Japan.

The prefecture and city of Osaka as well as the prefectures of Wakayama and Nagasaki have already entered the race, while Tokyo, Hokkaido and the city of Chiba are considering joining the competition.

The locations for integrated resorts are expected to be chosen next year at the earliest.

The government approved a basic plan of countermeasures for gambling addiction such as access control in April, but critics have expressed doubt about their effectiveness.

Yokohama is considering building a resort at the 47-hectare Yamashita Wharf, adjacent to major tourist site Yamashita Park.

The city plans to submit to its local assembly, due to begin next month, a draft extra budget of 260 million yen ($2.4 million) to study potential resort facilities and gambling addiction.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who has been eager about promotion of integrated resorts, refrained at a press conference from commenting on Yokohama's decision.

As for gambling addiction countermeasures, Suga, whose constituency is Yokohama, said he will "make efforts steadily so (the government) gains public understanding."

The central government will make public a draft of its basic policy including the deadline for applying and location selection standards, as early as next month.

The policy is also expected to contain evaluations on economic effects and gambling addiction measures.

After public comment procedures, the policy will be finalized around early next year, with municipalities then presenting their construction plans jointly with their business operators.

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