IAG speaks with Casinos Austria International, one of three leading contenders to develop an integrated resort in the regional Japanese city of Sasebo, Nagasaki, to find out more about its Asian expansion plans.
Imagine a couple bound by deeply interwoven fabric. That’s the relationship Casinos Austria says it shares with Nagasaki.
Founded in Austria in 1934, the company – which cites operations in 35 countries – has long had its eyes on expansion into Asia, and that ambition hasn’t altered despite the complexities presented by the COVID-19 challenge.
“Although COVID-19 has influenced us, we have been working on cutting-edge developments, including online projects,” explains the President of Casinos Austria’s Japanese arm, Akio Hayashi.
“Just because it is state-owned does not mean that it is old-fashioned. In that sense, perhaps we suffered less damage than other operators. In addition to safety and security, stability is part of our management philosophy.”
Casinos Austria first began looking at Japan 15 years ago and has always favored a regional location.
“We have a history of starting out in hospitality and then expanding to food and casinos. That’s why we haven’t even considered urban locations like Tokyo and Osaka,” Hayashi continues.
“During that research, the history, culture and nature of Nagasaki, which was the only port open to the world during the isolation period, was the most appealing. It also has Huis Ten Bosch, and we became confident that we could turn Nagasaki into a gateway and keep [visitors] in Japan.”
Nagasaki, the recipient of these advances, has also been laying the groundwork for many years. The prefecture has managed to build a consensus around IR development that comprises not only Nagasaki but a unified “All Kyushu” group including Yamaguchi and Okinawa.
“Nagasaki officials are researching IRs diligently and gaining the necessary know-how. Compared with other candidate sites, there is a lot of potential,” Hayashi says.
“If we can create some sort of collaboration, it would be the ultimate honor. We believe that rather than being a candidate just as an operator, we can have a relationship of reciprocal love.”
Also bidding to partner with Nagasaki to develop an IR is local Japanese company Current Corp and Hong Kong-listed Oshidori International Holdings Ltd, the latter having stepped up their bid in recent weeks with the appointment of former MGM Resorts head Alejandro Yemenidjian to lead their charge. It’s a challenge Casinos Austria welcomes.
“I think that Nagasaki getting attention is a good thing,” says Hayashi. “Nagasaki is an attractive city. It’s all about how to attract visitors. We are now working out how to convey Japanese content from Nagasaki. I believe we can do something profitable.”
Can Casinos Austria International make its Japanese dreams come true?
Tomoyuki Yamamoto: Can you tell us more about the history of Casinos Austria?
Akio Hayashi: Casinos Austria was founded in 1934, and we have been involved in 215 casino projects in 35 countries. The company is 34% owned by the state and has the know-how of developing 90 casino cruise ships, as well as a strong connection with Austrian culture and art.
TY: What are your goals for expanding into Japan?
AH: In the past, we have conducted our business in Europe, on the African continent, the American continents, in West Asia and Oceania. We have carefully considered expanding into East Asia for many years, and we already knew that when it happened, we wanted to be involved in a regional IR in Japan.
TY: Why Nagasaki?
AH: Nagasaki has a unique, long history of international cultural exchange for Japan. We have felt a kinship with the city of Sasebo in Nagasaki prefecture and have had our eye on it for over 10 years now. I’m sure you already know that Austria is one of only four countries in the world that has always maintained neutrality, and the headquarters of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is located in the capital of Vienna. This means the nation has high affinity with Nagasaki, a city that symbolizes peace.
TY: What do you believe are the strengths of Casinos Austria?
AH: Our strengths are results cultivated over many, many years and our rich knowledge. We also have a presence in 35 countries where we have, of course, cleared all regulations and succeeded in operations as well as becoming familiar with each of the local cultures. We hope to make a compilation of that success and experience into the best IR in the world in Nagasaki.
TY: One of your rivals in Nagasaki, Hong Kong’s Oshidori International Holdings Ltd, has recruited former MGM boss Alejandro Yemenidjian to lead its Japan IR bid. That appears to be a strong appointment – what are your thoughts?
AH: The news of this appointment alone has helped earn Nagasaki a lot of attention. I am looking forward to a fair and friendly competition.
TY: What do you want to achieve in Nagasaki?
AH: The site already has a European-type town in Huis Ten Bosch. We hope to add hot spring treatments as well as cutting-edge medical care, and create a unique European flavor fused with “Japanese” in the art museum.
We are also aiming to make Kyushu/Nagasaki a gateway and regional revitalization area by attracting guests through Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna Youth Choir performances, classical European music, exhibits of artists such as Gustav Klimt and even hosting the World Peace Council.
TY: What sort of adjustments have you had to make due to the COVID-19 crisis?
AH: We are always conscious of the three pillars of safety, security and stability. These are minimum requirements to function as a company in this day and age. Our strength is the ability to respond to changes in the times with flexibility.
While COVID-19 has had a significant impact, we have been able to minimize problems from that. We remain steadfast and have actually progressed in our hopes to make a Nagasaki IR a reality.