MGM Resorts Leading Osaka IR Bid Competition, Says Analyst, But Competitors Linger

Posted on: September 23, 2019, 11:06h. 

Last updated on: September 23, 2019, 12:20h.

MGM Resorts International is in the pole position in the race to win a gaming license in Osaka, according to one analyst. But the Bellagio and Mirage operator faces a pair of competitors in its quest to build an integrated resort in Japan’s third-largest city.

Former Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s efforts have MGM Resorts leading the way to land a gaming license in Osaka. (Image: San Diego Union-Tribune)

Former Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) is president of global development at MGM and has been leading the company’s Japan efforts. Sandoval, the 29th governor of the Silver State, joined the gaming company immediately after leaving office earlier this year.

The Osaka contest has been pared to three gaming companies – MGM, Galaxy Entertainment Group, and Genting Singapore. Las Vegas-based MGM is partnering with the Japanese financial services firm Orix Corp. to bring a gaming property to Osaka.

Orix, which owns stakes in a US investment bank and some European asset management firms, as well as the Orix Buffaloes baseball team, operates the Itami Airport and the Kansai International Airport, both located in Osaka.

Our sense is that whatever ends up being built [in Osaka] will be world-class and will be the maximum investment the winning operator could make before jeopardizing their return on investment thresholds,” said Fitch Ratings analyst Alex Bumazhny in an interview with GGR Asia.

Bumazhny and his team recently visited Japan and came away saying that the costs to construct integrated resorts there could range from $10 billion to $15 billion, up from a prior high-end estimate of $10 billion. The analysts also boosted their gross gaming revenue (GGR) estimate for the Land of the Rising Sun to $10 billion per year from $7 billion.

Committed To Osaka

MGM has long been committed to Osaka as its preferred destination in Japan, recently reaffirming that stance even as some rivals opted to focus on other cities.

“We announced our ‘Osaka First’ strategy and have not wavered from that plan,” said CEO Jim Murren last month. “We have always had confidence in our position, as what we will bring to Osaka is something only MGM Resorts can deliver.”

Recently, Las Vegas Sands and Melco Resorts, two of the other gaming companies vying for licenses in Asia’s second-largest economy, scuttled plans for Osaka, opting to focus their efforts on Yokohama. Melco, like MGM and Sands, is one of the six operators in Macau, and is promising to build the world’s top integrated resort in Japan’s second-largest city.

“The exit of Las Vegas Sands and Melco [Resorts] from Osaka certainly increases the probability that the MGM/Orix consortium, which was already a strong contender, wins the RFP [request-for-proposal] there,” said Bumazhny to GGR Asia.

Wynn Resorts, which is also angling for a Japanese license, has not displayed an overt preference for a particular metropolitan area there, opting only to say it will build the world’s largest casino if it wins one of the first three gaming permits the country will award.

Osaka Appeal

Located in the Kansai region, Osaka has about 2.6 million residents. The prefecture of the same name includes 42 other smaller cities and towns, collectively representing seven percent of Japan’s population.

A popular tourist destination, the city is slated to host the World Expo in 2025, putting some burden on whichever gaming company is awarded a license there to have its integrated resort operational by late 2024. Costs and the time frame for generating adequate return on investment are among the reasons some companies may prefer Yokohama to Osaka.

Fitch noted Yokohama’s larger population and proximity to Tokyo makes the risk-reward profile of a gaming property there more appealing for some operators.