IR bid at issue in Okinawa gubernatorial election

The question of whether or not Okinawa Prefecture will be making a bid for an IR license will likely be resolved in the September 30 gubernatorial elections, as the two candidates are taking the expected opposite policy positions.

As in the rest of Japan, attitudes on casino legalization in Okinawa are falling along right-left ideological lines, with conservatives and the rightwing supportive of the establishment of IRs, and liberals and the left steadfastly anti-casino.

The late Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga was something of an exception, being a lifelong conservative who opposed an IR bid in his prefecture for essentially conservative reasons.

The man running as the standard-bearer, anti-military base, All-Okinawa movement, Denny Tamaki, is following the former governor’s line, explaining, “Casinos are not needed. They are all about businesspeople from foreign countries coming here to steal the wealth of the Japanese people.”

Atsushi Sakima, the conservative candidate backed by the Abe government, takes a much different line on an IR bid: “Research and discussion is needed to explore the idea as an unique tourism resource for Okinawa.”

Even before former Governor Onaga’s unexpected death, pro-IR businesspeople inside and outside Okinawa had been openly discussing the possibility of a “regime change” in Naha that might lead Japan’s southernmost prefecture to revive the IR schemes that had been contemplated previous to 2014, when Onaga defeated the pro-casino Governor Hirokazu Nakaima.