Philippine DOJ Recommends Indictment of Japanese Gambling Tycoon Kazuo Okada for Fraud

Posted on: December 18, 2018, 07:24h. 

Last updated on: December 18, 2018, 07:24h.

The Philippine Department of Justice has recommended the indictment of Japanese pachinko and casino mogul Kazuo Okada on three counts of fraud in relation to the alleged misappropriation of more than $3 million from Tiger Resorts — the operator of the Okada Manila, in the Philippines’ Entertainment City.

Kazuo Okada
Kazuo Okada has denied allegations that he misappropriated up to $20 million from Universal Entertainment and Tiger Resorts and has sued to regain control of both companies. (Image: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

Okada, 76, was ousted from the board of Tiger Gaming’s parent, Universal Entertainment, in June 2017 and accused of misappropriating $20 million in company funds.

Universal is a pachinko and casino equipment giant that Okada himself established almost 50 years ago — a company that was been as synonymous with its founder as Wynn Resorts was with Steve Wynn.

In fact, Okada was a co-founder of Wynn Resorts and a man Wynn once referred to as his “best friend” before the pair fell out spectacularly.

Okada has loudly protested his innocence of corruption allegations, claiming he is the victim of a boardroom coup orchestrated by certain disgruntled members of his family and has sued to regain his control of the both the Universal and Tiger boards.

Bad Week Gets Worse

News of the recommended indictment — which was filed on December 7 but only became known to media on Monday — comes just 24 hours after a judge in the Philippines tossed Okada’s lawsuit challenging his removal from the Tiger board because it had been filed too late.

Judge Noemi Balitaan of Parañaque Regional Trial Court said Okada should have launched his petition within 15 days of being ousted as chair, director, shareholder and chief executive officer of the company. In fact, he filed it 13 months later.

The DOJ’s decision to recommend prosecution reverses a May resolution from the Office of the City Prosecutor of Parañaque City that dropped charges on the grounds that they appeared to stem from an internal corporate dispute.

Hong Kong Arrest

Okada has said that the money taken from Tiger and Universal Entertainment were legal director’s loans that he reinvested into junket operations for the Okada Manila.

But the DOJ alleged the Tiger transaction violated the company’s own regulations which state that such transactions can only be authorized with the full consent of the board.

In August, Okada was detained and questioned in Hong Kong, where he resides, by the region’s corruption watchdog. He ultimately released on bail.

The “Pachinko King” continues to fight to wrest back control of his gaming empire and to proclaim his innocence.

How Okada Made His Fortune

Born into a poor family in 1942, Okada dropped out of high school and later enrolled in a vocational college where he studied engineering. His first business was repairing American jukeboxes and reselling them to the Japanese market.

In 1969, he founded Universal Lease, the company that became Universal Entertainment. It initially made coin-op arcade games for children but a visit to Las Vegas changed Okada’s life and convinced him his future lay in the manufacture of slot machines.

As the man responsible for inventing the “near miss” slot-machine feature, Okada transformed the domestic pachinko market and later entered the US market when he co-founded Wynn Resorts with Steve Wynn. He was ousted from Wynn Resorts in 2010 after Wynn accused him of bribing a Philippine gaming regulator to secure a license for the property that became Okada Manila.