In Japan, many smaller cities have reportedly expressed criticism at official government guidelines published earlier this month that are set to require operators and municipalities to team up in order to submit concrete proposals for the right to host one of the nation’s coming integrated casino resorts.

According to a report from the Bloomberg news service, the giant cities of Yokohama, Osaka, and Tokyo have emerged as front-runners to host one of the country’s first Western-style gambling establishments, which are to contain casinos, hotels, shops and conference spaces, due to their large populations and proximity to major international airports.

However, smaller municipalities such as Wakayama, Nagasaki, and Kushiro have reportedly declared that requiring operators and communities to partner up in order to submit bids for one of the expected three inaugural casino licenses would hurt their chances and undermine Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s previously-expressed goal of reviving rural areas through tourism and economic development.

“The guidelines have changed the power structure between operators and local governments,” Yoshinobu Nisaka, governor for Wakayama Prefecture, told Bloomberg. “Where did the view that this was for local revitalization go?”

After passing enabling legislation in late-December, lawmakers in Japan are reportedly expected to award up to three integrated casino resort licenses for disparate areas of the nation in 2019 with the venues possibly welcoming their first players by 2023. Foreign firms including the likes of Melco Resorts And Entertainment Limited, Crown Resorts Limited, Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Galaxy Entertainment Group Limited are said to be interested while the market could eventually become the world’s second biggest behind Macau with annual revenues reaching as high as $25 billion.

For its part, Las Vegas Sands Corporation is reportedly eyeing the possibility of bringing an integrated casino resort to one of the three large cities, which have a combined population of over 20 million, in hopes of maximizing revenues.

“The location that works best for our business model is the major cities so we are talking about Tokyo, Yokohama [and] Osaka,” George Tanasijevich, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Las Vegas-based firm’s Marina Bay Sands development in Singapore, told Bloomberg. “We need to be in a major city that is connected to a major international airport so we can bring in the millions of people that we want to host at our property.”

Other firms reportedly interested in bidding for the right to bring an integrated casino resort to Japan include Genting Singapore, Hard Rock Cafe International Incorporated, and Boyd Gaming Corporation while Ed Bowers, Global Development Executive Vice President for MGM Resorts International told Bloomberg that his firm is also considering sites in Osaka, Tokyo, and Yokohama.

“MGM [Resorts International’s] business model is to build large-scale destination resorts with lots of stuff that costs a lot of money,” Bowers told the news service. “So it needs to be in a high density population area and obviously the ones to be mentioned are Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama. So we’re focused on those three.”

But, Bloomberg reported that not all of the potential foreign operators have written off the possibility of bringing a casino to one of the less-populated municipalities as Steven Tight, International Development President for Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corporation, recently explained that his firm was “currently exploring opportunities in both urban and regional markets”.