Japan’s National Diet is expected to unveil is long-awaited commercial gambling bill sometime next month. The general consensus among analysts is that the legislation will authorize two integrated casino resorts in Osaka and Yokohama, with US gambling operators Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts the frontrunners to obtain the coveted licenses.

Japan casino bill Shinzo Abe

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is ready to celebrate the expansion of Japan’s gaming industry, as the National Diet puts the finishing touches on its integrated casino resort bill. (Image: Toru Hanai/Reuters)

But Spectrum Gaming, a global gaming research firm based in New Jersey, says nothing is set in stone. In its “Ten Industry Trends for 2018” report, Spectrum analysts believe three licenses might be up for grabs, and the bidding process could last years.

Discussing Japan, its second most important trend for 2018, Spectrum states, “After a decade of debate and missed opportunity, casino gaming in Japan is expected to be legalized in 2018. A battle is then anticipated over the following one to two years between international operators and domestic corporations for one of the three expected licenses.”

The Diet’s Integrated Resort Implementation Bill has been carefully crafted over the last several months, though few details have been leaked. A special committee has traveled to potential host cities to take feedback from local officials and citizens.

When the law is formally revealed and introduced to the legislature, the Diet’s lower and upper houses will both need to sign off on the measure. It will then require the signature of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his cabinet, and then ceremonially by Emperor Akihito.

2025 Opening

If Spectrum is correct in believing the Diet is considering three licenses, and not just two, that should only improve MGM’s odds. Company CEO Jim Murren said recently that MGM’s development cycle will conclude with the 2018 openings of its $3.3 billion resort on Macau’s Cotai Strip, its $960 million resort in Springfield, Massachusetts, and overhaul of the Monte Carlo.

The exception, of course, is if MGM should receive Japan’s blessing to enter the country’s liberalized gaming industry.

In September, Murren said he expects a competitive bidding process, but predicts MGM’s success in receiving a license. He was the first gaming CEO to put a timetable on when a Japan integrated casino resort might open, and he believes 2025 is realistic. Murren agrees with Spectrum that licenses will not be bestowed before 2019.

Bidders Waiting Patiently

Of Spectrum’s “Top 10 Industry Trends,” the issue of legalized sports betting in America is of utmost prominence. Where the Supreme Court will come down on the current federal bad will be revealed sometime in the first half of 2018, and that could coincide with Japan’s casino bill becoming law.

Should the Supreme Court repeal the sports betting ban, and Japan legalize gambling, US casino operators might be smart to remain bullish on their 2018 outlooks.

In addition to Las Vegas Sands and MGM, other major casino operators with international experience are expected to bid on Japan. The list includes Wynn Resorts, Hard Rock, Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Resorts, and Japan’s own Sega Sammy.

Just how willing each company is to invest between $5 billion to $10 billion in Japan will rely greatly on the bill’s specifics.