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Has Japan Missed the Opportunity to Become Asia’s Second Largest Gambling Hub?

Sep 30, 2014 - by Monica Erdei
Has Japan missed the chance to become Asia’s second largest gambling hub?

Has Japan missed the chance to become Asia’s second largest gambling hub?

Japan is getting closer and closer to that critical point where casino developers will lose their patience and turn their backs on any investment opportunity in the country.

Since experts estimated that Japan has the potential to become Asia’s second largest casino market, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has been pushing for a change in Japanese gambling laws to open the door to major casino developers before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. With the way things are going, it looks like the big dream is not going to happen anytime soon.

For Japan, it’s not a matter of “sooner or later”. If investors don’t have sufficient time to make their plans, obtain approval and start building, the effort will not be worth it. Having a favorable regulatory system as soon as possible was crucial for the success of the country’s gambling market. It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that everything will be ready in time for the Olympics.

Reuters: Costs, politics erode chances for a Tokyo casino by 2020

Japanese casino supporters are starting to panic as plans to change the country’s gambling legislation don’t seem to be coming together. As time passes and authorities are still undecided whether to approve the new casino bill, plans to open the first casino in Tokyo before the 2020 Olympics are becoming increasingly unlikely.

Even though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly stated that legalizing casino games is one of his main objectives, recent gambling news say building costs are skyrocketing, and the city government is not treating casino development as an economic priority anymore.

For months, casino companies have courted the governments of Tokyo and Osaka, hoping that they will convince them to open the market. Analysts have touted Japan as one of the world’s biggest untapped markets for gambling, but authorities are still undecided.

Major casino operators like Las Vegas Sands, Genting Singapore, MGM Resorts and Melco Crown Entertainment have proposed billion-dollar plans for the area, in order to position themselves as potential candidates for a license, should the casino bill be approved.

The parliament just began its autumn session, and the casino bill should be debated. Supporters of the idea are hoping that politicians will make a decision, giving the administration enough time to approve the bill and start making plans by 2015. But costs have become an issue and the Tokyo government is considering scaling back its plans for the Olympics.

Satoshi Okabe, a senior manager at a project being developed by Dentsu, said: “The reality is that preparations for the Olympics are going to be pretty challenging. Casinos are secondary. Building costs are going to spike and foreign casino operators are going to find investment returns inefficient.”

Meanwhile, Osaka is making progress with its plans for a casino and Caesars Entertainment is still interested. “We are actively in talks with potential Japanese partners about an Osaka project,” said Steve Tight, president for international development for Caesars.

Forbes: Japan Forms Casino Task Force To Boost Flagging Momentum

At the end of August, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government announced that it was going to create a task force help speed up preparations for casinos in Japan. Decision-makers have postponed the issue for a while now, but the Abe administration is hoping the task force will revive momentum for the resorts to be open in time for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo.

Some major gaming companies said they were willing to spend as much as $5 billion or more to build integrated resorts in the country’s largest cities, but financial experts doubt that the Japanese market is worth that level of investment.

The casino legalization bill was introduced in December 2013, but the Diet didn’t include it in its June voting session. The issue was brought up for debate just a few days before the session closed, so there is still hope that it might come up again during the special session held in autumn.

A report released by Morgan Stanley says Japan is facing many issues in its ambitions to build integrated casino resorts. Analysts Praveen Choudhary, Thomas Allen and Alex Poon have concluded that the country’s gambling market may not be as profitable as casino developers are hoping.

GamingZion: Major Casino Developers Eager to Join the $40 Billion Japanese Casino Market

Experts agree that a casino industry in Japan could potentially generate a yearly profit of $40 billion. The news has convinced the world’s largest casino developers that they must have a share of that juicy revenue, so developers like Melco Crown Entertainment, Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts and Caesar’s Entertainment Group have all pledged to invest billions of dollars.

Melco CEO Lawrence Ho said the company was willing to spend as much as $5 billion on a new investment in Japan, should the new law pass. The developer sees it as the perfect opportunity to expand outside of Macau.

Las Vegas Sands, Wynn and MGM are also interested in the Japanese casino market, and Caesars Entertainment has already presented its plans for a $5 billion resort, as Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman said the company “will have no trouble raising the finance for a world-class facility in Tokyo.”

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