Scientific Game

A Gathering in Tokyo

Consensus is Japan’s Diet will move to legalize casinos sometime in early 2014

Saturday, 14 December 2013 18:24
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Chances are “better than 50/50” that a bill authorizing resort-scale casino development will be passed in Japan’s Diet by early 2014 and a bill spelling out a regulatory scheme, including licensing and taxation, within a year of that.

Such was the consensus of a gathering last month in Tokyo of global casino operators and various Japanese stakeholders hosted by Las Vegas-based investment brokers Union Gaming Group, which projected that the initial bill will be introduced in the parliament by November.

Hiroyuki Hosoda, chairman of the procasino caucus in Japan’s Diet, also said last month that his group plans to submit a legalization bill in the next session of the parliament expected to convene in October. Mr Hosoda, a senior member of Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and an ally of the prime minister, added that the intention is to get the bill passed in the next session beginning next year.

“There seems to be near universal sentiment that Tokyo’s winning 2020 Summer Olympics bid has increased the likelihood of a gaming expansion bill passing,” UGG said in a recap for investors of its inaugural Japan Development Conference, held over two days last month in the capital.

 

“A lot of Japanese gamble at casinos overseas, so the ban doesn’t make sense anymore.” 

Hiroyuki Hosoda

chairman of the pro-casino caucus in Japan’s Diet

 

As summarized by one Diet member in attendance—“Now is the moment of greatest opportunity.”

 

Analysts believe a market consisting of two integrated resorts, one each in Tokyo and Osaka, could rake in US$10 billion in revenues a year.

 

UGG believes the momentum provided by the Olympics bid will find government looking to leverage a Tokyo-area casino to drive international tourism—the official goal is 30 million visitors by 2020, up from 8 million or so currently—and “potentially offload” some of the public infrastructure costs of the games.

The firm added that it is “likely” that majorities already have been secured for an authorization bill within the legislative caucuses of the two main political parties— the governing Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan.

If this holds true, subsequent to the projected passage of an implementation bill in early 2015 a fairly open bidding process is expected to follow with the likelihood that pachinko operators and manufacturers will participate on some level. Significantly, though, UGG does not believe the legislation will require developers to have local partners, although bids that do “are likely to be viewed more favorably than bids that don’t,” the firm said.

As the process is expected to unfold: first, the central government will select the host cities; this will be followed by competitive bidding at the municipal level; finally, construction will commence around 2017, with openings in 2020 and the Tokyo winner likely to push to open sooner.

The conference drew more than 200 attendees from Japanese gaming and other industries, representatives from several prefectures and members of the Diet. Five operators gave presentations: Las Vegas Sands, Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Cambodia’s NagaCorp.

With Prime Minister Abe reported to favor casinos as part of his program for reviving Japan’s economy along with Tokyo’s successful 2020 Olympics bid, anticipation has never been higher that resort-scale gambling may finally become reality in the world’s third-largest economy and Asia’s largest untapped casino market.

It is believed that the industry is at least five years from becoming operational, but analysts believe a market consisting of two integrated resorts, one each in Tokyo and Osaka, could rake in US$10 billion in revenues a year, possibly surpassing Singapore and catapulting the country to No. 2 in gaming revenue in the world behind only Macau.

“Japan could benefit from both its proximity to China and their appetite for VIP and mass-market gaming and luxury shopping, and being a business center with huge convention possibilities,” said Tim Craighead, a Bloomberg Industries analyst. “All of it now relies on the legislation process and Japan pursuing the benefit of the integrated resort concept.”

Not surprisingly, nearly all the industry’s global heavyweights are expressing interest, scouting development sites and negotiating with prospective local partners such as Mitsui & Co., Mitsubishi Corp. and Itochu Corp. and gaming machine makers Sega Sammy Holdings and Konami Corp. The trading companies have project-finance experience and real estate development connections, while the game makers have helped develop casino projects and technology outside of Japan.

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