500.com wants Okinawa IR

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga has made clear that he firmly opposes the establishment of an IR within his island prefecture, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping powerful economic and political forces from seeking to overturn that verdict and to bring a casino to Okinawa nonetheless.

Zhengming Pan, CEO of 500.com, a Shenzhen, China, based online sports lottery service provider, held a press conference in Naha in which he revealed his interest in investing in a prospective Okinawa IR. Pan estimated that his investment could be up to the US$2.5 billion range.

When asked why he thought an IR was possible at a time when Governor Onaga opposed the notion, Pan responded, “We need a debate about the reasons for the opposition. We can bring cutting edge technology to the Japan IR business and the issue of gambling addiction through the use of big data and artificial intelligence.”

Revealing the political muscle behind Pan’s scheme was the participation in the event of a national ruling party lawmaker, LDP Representative Tsukasa Akimoto. Also participating was the chairman of the previous Okinawa governor’s committee investigating the possibility of hosting an IR.

Since his election in November 2014, Governor Onaga has been in direct confrontation with the Abe government over construction of a new US Marine airbase within his prefecture.

There is almost no prospect of Governor Onaga being persuaded to change his anti-casino stance, as he has explained that it is rooted in his views about the fundamental dignity and identity of the Okinawan people.

The only plausible reason why such an event would be held in Okinawa at this time is because the national ruling party and big business interests are banking that they can defeat the reelection of Onaga and install their own pro-IR governor near the end of 2018.