Yokohama shoots down casino referendum

Officials in Yokohama have voted down the idea of holding a referendum on whether to build a so-called Integrated Resort in the city. More than 200,000 residents had signed a petition calling for a public vote on the matter, which is controversial because the planned facility would include a casino.

Japan's government passed a law in 2016 that gave the green light for Integrated Resorts as part of a strategy to boost tourism and revitalize local economies. Besides casinos, the complexes would contain hotels, commercial facilities and international conference halls.

The port city of Yokohama is considered a front-runner for such a resort, and mayor Hayashi Fumiko has been a vocal advocate.

"I believe an integrated resort would greatly contribute to the city's tax revenue by enhancing tourism," she said. City officials estimate the facility would generate between $7 billion and $10 billion a year for the local economy.

Hayashi Fumiko
Yokohama City Mayor Hayashi Fumiko

Despite her enthusiasm for the project, Hayashi had indicated she would accept a referendum.

"I want to respect the opinions of the people, and, as mayor, convey my view in an easy-to-understand manner," she said last November.

But since then, her support has cooled. This may be due to the fact that she is up for reelection this year, and will need the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to stay in office. The LDP and its coalition partner, Komeito, are opposed to the idea of a referendum.

Last Wednesday, Hayashi indicated during a discussion that she was no longer in favor of a referendum.

"The draft ordinance says the local government should respect the outcome of a referendum," she said. "But I think this would be difficult, considering the discussions that have already been held in the assembly."

On Friday, the Yokohama assembly finally rejected the idea of a referendum. Members of the LDP and Komeito voted down the bill after just three days of deliberations.

Citizens' groups have expressed dismay at what they see as Hayashi's flip-flopping. One representative said, "The mayor's answer was cold. She basically said she will not listen to the opinions of us citizens."

Hayashi may be forced to listen this summer when voters head to the polls. The Integrated Resort project is likely to be one of the key issues in the run-up to the election.

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