Japan Casino Industry Could Be Smaller Than Lawmakers Originally Hoped

Posted on: August 26, 2021, 12:29h. 

Last updated on: August 26, 2021, 12:27h.

Japan’s forthcoming casino industry could be just a shell of the grand concept lawmakers envisioned when they passed legislation to legalize commercial gambling in 2018.

Japan casino Tokyo Osaka Yokohama
People cross an intersection in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward last month. Tokyo is not bidding on one of Japan’s three casino licenses that are up for consideration. (Image: Kyodo)

Japan’s lengthy process to bring the Asian nation casino resorts, paired with COVID-19, has resulted in little interest among the country’s prefectures and cities. Local officials’ lethargy has subsequently extended to the major casino operators that once considered Japan the greatest opportunity since China’s Macau authorized new casino permits two decades ago.

Japan’s 2018 integrated resort (IR) bill authorizes as many as three casino projects. But with only three cities remaining interested, and only one globally recognized casino firm in the running, analysts believe the central government might opt to delay issuing the concessions.

There could be zero, one, two, or three IR development approvals given. This will depend entirely on the quality and integrity of each local government’s application,” explained Joji Kokuryo of Bay City Ventures, a leading advisory on Japan’s casino liberalization.

Notable firms not presently bidding on Japan include Las Vegas Sands, Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, Hard Rock International, and Galaxy Entertainment.

Major Cities Out

MGM Resorts is involved in Osaka’s $9.1 billion IR pitch with Japanese financial conglomerate Orix. Osaka is the third-most populated city in Japan behind Tokyo and Yokohama.

Genting Group and Melco Resorts both remain interested in Yokohama. But the city’s weekend mayoral election was won by Dr. Takeharu Yamanaka. The mayor-elect has pledged to withdrawal the Kanagawa Prefecture capital’s casino candidacy.

The two other candidate cities vying for an IR are Nagasaki and Wakayama. Those cities are respectively ranked 36th and 53rd in population in Japan. Nagasaki has picked Casinos Austria as its IR developer, while Wakayama has united with private equity firm Clairvest Group.

“By no means will all be approved just for making submissions to the national government,” Kokuryo explained.

With all but one of Japan’s 13 cities that are home to one million people or more out of IR consideration — Osaka the lone exception — analysts believe Japan could hold on to one or two of the IR licenses for future consideration.

“While the IR race appears to be down to three, there could be a scenario where only one is selected. This would leave the other two licenses up for consideration under a different timeline and scenario,” Brendan Bussmann, director of government affairs at Las Vegas-based casino consultancy Global Market Advisors, told GGRAsia.

Bidding Period

For now, the total number of IR casinos Japan decides to license is the only speculation.

The central government’s Casino Administration Committee will begin fielding IR submissions from prefectures and their cities in October. The application period is open through April of 2022.

Japan’s 2018 IR bill requires that a project proposal provide evidence that such a complex will attract foreign tourists, be competitive with international IRs, and positively impact its host prefecture.

The Casino Administration Committee, a five-person panel consisting of a former prosecutor, tax official, two ex-lawmakers, and a psychiatrist will conduct deep dives into the backgrounds of the applicants.