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Could ‘Dream Island’ Casino Turn Into a Nightmare for Japan’s Government?

Osaka, JapanAs the battle to turn Japan into a gambling destination to rival Macau intensifies, a potential site for the development in Osaka has been confirmed.

Yumeshima, also known as ‘Dream Island’, is a man-made archipelago that Osaka’s law-makers believe could be the ideal spot for the upcoming foray into legal casino gaming.

The race is on to launch Japan’s first integrated casino resort, with other areas – including Nagoya and Wakayama – battling it out with Osaka to be the maiden destination in the country….some six years after casinos were legalised.

The Japanese government believes that hybrid, Las Vegas style resorts, which would feature casino gaming alongside entertainment, hospitality and accommodation, are key to boosting economic growth in the Asian nation through tourism, and Osaka’s mayor Ichiro Matsui is very much on board with the plans.

Analysts have predicted that casino gaming could raise as much as ¥106 billion (£650 million) per year in Japan, and in turn create around ¥1.14 trillion – a cool £7 billion – in wider economic revenue.

Yumeshima Island

But the choice of Yumeshima as a potential host for the resort has not gone down well with many, and while building work has begun on the necessary infrastructure – including a new subway system rumoured to have been paid for by MGM Resorts – the protests are likely to continue.

And then there’s the small matter of having to rectify potential soil liquefaction ahead of any construction project – for which local Osaka taxpayers are expected to foot the bill of about ¥79 billion (£480 million).

More than 100 petitions have been posted to the Osaka city assembly, demanding that the casino project be scrapped or at least sent to a referendum. So far at least, law-makers have resisted those calls.

One outspoken critic is Teruo Sakurada, a professor at the local Hannan University. He said: “This is all about money for the operator and the Japanese firms involved in building and running the resort.

“Local companies have lost a lot of their power and influence in recent years, and this is a way for them to reassert themselves and divvy up the profits among themselves.”

What is Yumeshima?

Imagine an expansive body of water, and then imagine a man-made island plonked in the middle of it – a sort of topographical Coke Float. That explains Yumeshima in a nutshell.

The 960-acre island has already become a tourist trap of sorts, with the Konohanu-ku ward where it is based home to Universal Studios Japan – which features a backwards-moving rollercoaster, if that’s your thing. It will also play host to the 2025 World Expo.

There’s the space for a casino resort then, and also plenty of traffic passing through the island – so it’s no wonder that the Osaka licence battle has been one of the most keenly contested.

But MGM are the main candidates after Genting dropped out of the race over concerns at how long the process is taking, while Las Vegas Sands and Caesars had previously withdrawn their interest in the Yumeshina casino licence.