Governor Onaga’s Death Brings Okinawa to Turning Point

The election of Governor Takeshi Onaga in November 2014 brought a halt to the long-developed notions of building an IR in Okinawa, but Onaga’s sudden death on Wednesday has put the issue of an IR bid back on the table as a possibility in Japan’s southernmost prefecture.

Governor Onaga, in contrast to his predecessor Hirokazu Nakaima, was opposed to building an IR in his prefecture, viewing reliance on the gambling industry as being below the dignity of the proud Okinawan culture. While elements of the business community nevertheless remained keenly interested in an Okinawa IR, it obviously wasn’t going to occur under Onaga’s watch.

The governor’s death due to complications from pancreatic cancer has thrown Okinawa’s politics into disarray, with a dramatic change in IR policy being one possible outcome.

First of all, the gubernatorial elections that had been scheduled for November will now be brought forward to sometime next month.

Most likely there will be two major candidates who emerge, one representing the “All-Okinawa” movement that Onaga led, and another (Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima) who will represent the conservative forces backing the Abe administration’s policies for the prefecture.

The main policy battle line will be over the issue of the construction of the new US Marine airbase at Henoko beach, but the election’s outcome may deeply impact IR policy as well.

The conventional wisdom suggests that a Sakima victory could lead to the revival of the local government’s interest in hosting an IR, while a victory by the yet-to-be-determined “All-Okinawa” candidate would lead to the maintenance of the late Governor Onaga’s policy line of opposition to casinos.

Among IR operators, 500.com has been the most visible in Okinawa in recent years, with CEO Zhengming Pan and his potential partner, CEO Kevin McGowen of Les Ambassadeurs Club, pitching their casino ideas to Okinawan businessmen and politicians as recently as a couple of weeks ago. (AGB Nippon)