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Kitakyushu Becomes a Player in Japan Integrated Resort Field as Mayor Woos Hong Kong Operator

Kitakyushu, a city located on Kyushu Island in Southern Japan, hasn’t frequently been mentioned as a potential destination for an integrated resort. But that could change if the city throws its hat in the ring.

The city’s interest in becoming home to a gaming property can be tied to recent reports quoting Mayor Kenji Kitahashi as saying he has received interest from an unidentified Hong Kong operator about potentially opening a casino in the area.

I will properly consider and study this as much as is possible,” said Kitahashi in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun.

There are three gaming companies based in Hong Kong: Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Resorts and SJM Holdings. Three others – Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts – list shares of their China operating units on the Special Administrative Region’s (SAR) major equity bourse.

Kitahashi did not specify if the operator expressing interest in Kitakyushu is a Hong Kong-based company, or one that merely has a stock trading there.

Process of Elimination

MGM has long been committed to Osaka, where it’s competing with Galaxy Entertainment Group and Genting Singapore.

Melco Resorts, Sands, and Wynn have all expressed interest in cities far larger than Kitakyushu. For its part, Melco is “all-in” on Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, while Sands and Wynn have also expressed interest in that area, as well as Tokyo.

The population of Kitakyushu is just over 961,000, well below the 2.69 million and 3.72 million residents found in Osaka and Yokohama, respectively.

Kitakyushu wasn’t mentioned among the potential suitors for a gaming venue when Japanese authorities published a list of interested cities a couple of months ago.

Some Benefits

While Kitakyushu is smaller than some of the other cities vying to land an integrated resort, it has some geographic benefits. For example, the overall population of Kyushu Island is close to 13 million.

Additionally, Kitakyushu’s proximity to other major Asian cities outside Japan is superior to that of Osaka, Tokyo, and Yokohama. Kitakyushu is closer to Seoul, Shanghai, and Taipei, three of the region’s largest cities, than any of its aforementioned Japanese rivals.

Mayor Kitahashi believes his city has two practical locations for an integrated resort: JR Sanyo Shinkansen Kokura Station North Exit, and the Kitaku part of the Moji Ward.

The Kokura Station North Exit could be preferred by gaming companies because of its accessibility via monorail and proximity to nearly a dozen hotels. That part of the city is also expected to become home to a large convention center and theme park in the coming years, potentially increasing its allure to a gaming company.

Though Kitahashi is promising to examine the plan from the unidentified Hong Kong operator, he hasn’t fully committed to making Kitakyushu home to an integrated resort. The mayor noted that excluding the purchase of land, he estimates building a gaming property in the city would cost $5.5 billion, while delivering a tax benefit of $690.5 million.

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