Japan’s Government Denies Reports about Trump Instructing Abe to Consider Las Vegas Sands as Winning Casino Bidder

Diet spokesperson denies reports about Trump’s alleged attempts to meddle in Japan’s casino license bidding process

A top spokesman for the Japanese government denied on Thursday reports alleging that US President Donald Trump has asked Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a February 2017 meeting to “strongly consider” Las Vegas Sands’ bid for a casino license in the newly-regulated Japanese gambling market.

Las Vegas Sands, a Las Vegas-based casino and hospitality giant, is one of the many major industry players to have expressed strong interest in making a foray into Japan now as casino gambling is legal in the country. The company was founded and is being managed by business mogul Sheldon Adelson. Mr. Adelson is one of the biggest GOP donors and reportedly poured more than $20 million into Mr. Trump’s successful bid to become the 45th President of the United States.

In a detailed report from earlier this week, non-profit newsroom ProPublica wrote that during a February 2017 meeting between the US and Japan’s top officials, President Trump raised the casino issue and lobbied for Mr. Adelson and his company to be considered as the winning bidders for one of the gaming licenses to be issued by the Japanese government.

ProPublica went on, citing unnamed sources who were briefed on the matter, that Prime Minster Abe “didn’t really respond” to Mr. Trump’s endorsement and just thanked for the information.

Yoshihide Suga, Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese government, said Thursday that the Prime Minster had previously responded to similar reports and that was all he had to say. Mr. Suga referred to a July 2017 session of the Japanese government, during which Prime Minister Abe denied reports that he had been instructed by President Trump to consider strongly Las Vegas Sands as one of the winning bidders for a gaming license.

Separate Reports about Potential President Trump Lobbying

ProPublica’s detailed article was not the first one produced in relation to President Trump’s reported attempt to endorse Mr. Adelson’s Japanese bid. Local business news outlet the Nikkei Asian Review said in a report from June 2017 that during their meeting at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat, the US top official congratulated Mr. Abe for the recent passage of a bill that legalized casino gambling and advised him to consider Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International.

The Nikkei article went on to reveal that the Japanese team was rather surprised by the course of the conversation and that Prime Minister Abe’s aides were instructed to jot down the names of the two companies. As mentioned earlier, the meeting took place in February 2017, when President Trump was just a month into his tenure. Prime Minister Abe denied the Nikkei report during the Diet’s July 2017 session.

Japan passed a bill that legalized casino gambling in the country in December 2016. Earlier this year, the Diet passed a separate bill, one that set out the rules and principles under which the country’s casinos would be operated. Under the piece of legislation, the government will issue three gaming licenses to interested companies. The casinos will be developed as part of larger integrated resorts.

Las Vegas Sands has long been eying expansion into Japan. The company has envisioned the construction of a $10-billion integrated resort that would be similar to its properties in Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore.

Commenting on the ProPublica report, a company spokesperson has said that while Las Vegas Sands might indeed be among the favorites for one of the three casino licenses in Japan, that has nothing to do with any lobbying from President Trump but with the company’s experience in the operation of integrated resorts in the Asia-Pacific region.

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