Casino gambling is finally coming to Japan. The government is looking to award two licenses, which has interested Japanese cities and prefectures (their equivalent of a province or state) cautiously enthusiastic, while casino industry players are eager to enter the fray.

Japan casino Wakayama Yoshinobu Nisaka

Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka, seen here with Tama the cat, wants to get his paws on one of Japan’s two coveted integrated casino resort licenses. (Image: Wakayama Prefecture)

Last week at the Japan Gaming Congress in Tokyo, Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka of the Wakayama Prefecture told GGRAsia that his region would be interested in welcoming one of the two resorts.

The National Diet, which is Japan’s legislative body, approved commercial gambling in December, and now lawmakers are authoring a more comprehensive gaming bill to establish a regulatory framework. Though numbers are not yet set in stone, this bill is expected to permit two casinos initially to receive necessary Integrated Resort (IR) licenses in Japan.

“We are going to continue our promotion activities,” the governor told the Asia-focused gaming media outlet. “People should not be thinking of saying that there are two licenses offered or that an IR should be looking like this or that. Instead, the global business people should be coming and discussing with one another, to come up with different types of IR plan.”

Foreign Tourists, National Diet

There are 47 prefectures in Japan. Nisaka argues his area could be the perfect gambling complement to an urban destination expected to win one of the IR licenses.

According to analyst predictions, Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama are the frontrunner destinations. If Osaka receives the nod, that might dampen Wakayama City’s chances, as the places are just 50 miles apart.

The Wakayama governor says casino companies have still expressed interest in partnering, despite Osaka’s strong odds of receiving authorization.

“There were operators that told us that even if Osaka would have one IR, there could be another one in Wakayama as well, because the nature of the IR is different … one is city-oriented, another is resort-oriented,” Nisaka explained.

The National Diet must decide on everything from licensing fees and gaming taxes to problem gambling prevention and assistance measures. Another key unsettled issue is whether Japan’s own residents will be permitted inside the casinos, or if the facilities will only be open to foreign tourists.

Nisaka says he’d prefer his Wakayama casino to be for international guests only. The Diet is rumored to be considering charging Japanese citizens an entrance fee that could be as high as $100 per casino visit.

Casino Partners Eyeing Prizes

Wakayama and any other city or prefecture competing for a license should have no problem finding international casino business partners. When Japan passed its integrated resorts law, gaming and entertainment conglomerates pounced, and almost immediately began lobbying to take part in building Japan’s gaming industry from the ground up.

Corporate casino suitors include Las Vegas Sands, MGM, Wynn, Galaxy Entertainment, Hard Rock, and Melco, to name a few, These companies are pledging multibillion-dollar investments should they be receive necessary licenses, with what’s needed to qualify for a Japanese gaming license still to be determined.

Japan will likely give bonus points to companies that partner with domestic entities. Sega Sammy is one such business, as famed maker of pachinko machines recently expressed an intent to buying into the casino industry.

During the Japan Gaming Congress, Sega Sammy revealed that the company is currently developing new machines for foreign jurisdictions. In coming years, the Tokyo-based company is seeking to move its machinery into both the Philippines and the United States.