Major Casino Developers Step Up Lobbying Efforts to Enter Japan’s Market

Japan legalized casino gambling within its borders a little more than a month ago. It has become known that some of the big players on the global gambling scene have initiated lobbying efforts to lure local investors and potentially win a casino license when the country is ready to grant such permissions.

As Reuters has reported recently, MGM Resorts International and Hard Rock International are among the major casino operators to have started their quest for suitable local partners. Las Vegas Sands and Genting Group are the other two giants to have expressed interest in entering the local market when this becomes possible.

And all interested parties may have to a wait for a little while before setting foot in Japan. In December, the Japanese Diet approved only one of two planned bills that are to pave the way for casino gambling in the country. The Promotional Integrated Resorts Bill, as the approved legislative piece has officially been referred to, legalizes the provision of casino gaming options in the country but does not set the regulatory framework under which said operations will be conducted.

A second bill will provide the necessary requirements for the construction of integrated casino resorts in the country and for their operation, once built and launched. It is still unclear when exactly this other legislation will be voted on, but casino proponents have expressed hopes that Japanese lawmakers would not need another three years to pass it as was the case with the promotional legislative piece.

Japan is expected to open its market for up to two integrated resorts with gambling, accommodation, retail, food and beverage, and entertainment options. The properties are to be located in big city metropolitan areas, possibly in Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama. As noted above, international operators will likely look to establish joint ventures with local partners to build and operate the properties together.

It is believed that Japan’s casino market holds the potential to turn into the world’s second largest one. According to analysts, annual revenue of between $10-$20 billion could be generated from its future casinos. This is why it is not a surprise that some of the world’s best known integrated resort developers are eyeing the Pacific Ocean nation.

Interested Operators

Las Vegas Sands

It could be said that Las Vegas Sands is the pioneer when it comes to integrated resorts development. The company first deployed the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) model in its Las Vegas properties, thus diversifying its offering beyond casino gambling with the aim to attract visitors of different demographic and professional groups. This model seems to have proven a successful one as the major developer and operator has gradually expanded its operations into the Asia-Pacific region. Aside from its domestic properties, Las Vegas Sands currently manages ones in Macau and Singapore.

MGM Resorts International

MGM Resorts is yet another major player on the global gambling scene whose roots can be traced back to Nevada. The operator holds one of the biggest shares in the Las Vegas casino market, its properties adorning the gambling mecca’s skyline for years now.

However, MGM Resorts has not limited its operations to Las Vegas only. It currently operates one integrated resort in Macau. A second such property – MGM Cotai – is slated to open doors sometime in mid-2017. In December 2016, the operator also cut the ribbon of MGM National Harbor, the sixth casino in Maryland and the first integrated resort within the state’s borders.

MGM Resorts has been among the first international developers to have expressed interest in Japan’s casino market. The company’s CEO – James Murren – revealed late last year that they were ready to invest up to $10 billion in an integrated resort in the country, once it is ready to finally embrace casino gambling.

Genting Group

The Malaysian conglomerate is a well-known name in the Asia-Pacific region as well as in other parts of the world. It operates casino resorts in Singapore, the Philippines, and the UK. It is currently building a multi-billion-dollar Asia-themed property in Las Vegas and is eyeing expansion in other US states, including Florida and New York.

According to analysts, Genting is among the operators with the biggest chances to enter Japan’s casino market, given its portfolio and proven track record, something that local authorities have repeatedly pointed as an important requirement.

Hard Rock International

It has become known that Hard Rock International employees have already started wooing potential Japanese partners. The company is known for the operation of casinos around Florida and of an international chain of cafés.

It seems that Hard Rock is looking to expand into newly regulated markets. Last year, the company won the bid for the construction and operation of the first casino resort in the Republic of Cyprus. Working together with another major developer – Melco International Development – and with local partner Cyprus Phassouri (Zakaki) Ltd., Hard Rock will have to build a 500-room hotel and a casino with 1,000 slot machines and 100 gaming tables.

Other Potential Candidates

Japan’s casino market is yet to be opened and the requirements for the operation of integrated resorts in the country are yet to be set. More casino operators may join the race once there is more clarity and a regulatory framework is established. Operators like Melco International Development, Wynn Resorts, and even the local Universal Entertainment Corp. may eventually join the race for a piece of a pie that may be worth $20 billion, if analysts’ predictions prove right.

Concerns

Although integrated resorts are seen as a potential further boost to the country’s growing tourism industry, concerns have been voiced about the effects casino gambling will have on residents. To respond to growing worries, Japanese lawmakers are set to draft a legislative piece that would aim at curbing problem gambling and other social ills that may arise from the increased gambling activity once first casinos open doors. It has been reported that interested developers have also joined the discussions about the promotion of responsible gambling once the casino market is opened.

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