Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (pictured in a file photo) has dismissed calls by opposition lawmakers for some form of inquiry – reports didn’t clarify what form was being sought – regarding concerns that private-sector suitors for casino licensing in Japan had sought to influence key public officials.
The country’s public prosecutions system is already dealing with allegations against a number of public office holders – most prominently former Liberal Democratic Party member and lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto. He was first arrested in December and charged on suspicion of receiving several million Japanese yen in bribes from Chinese sports betting group 500.com Ltd, and then rearrested in mid-January on fresh charges. He is a former state minister of the Cabinet Office, a body responsible for overseeing Japan’s integrated resort (IR) policy.
Mr Abe had said, at a January 22 plenary session of the House of Representatives – the lower chamber of the country’s parliament – that his administration would still be pursuing IR schemes in that country, as an economic stimulant aimed at boosting inbound tourism to Japan. A maximum of three are to be permitted in a first phase of liberalisation.
As reported by Asahi Shimbun on Tuesday, Mr Abe’s rejection of some other form of probe came amid questions by opposition lawmakers at a budget committee session on Monday in the lower house. Opposition lawmaker Kenji Eda had asked whether President Donald Trump of the United States had lobbied – when meeting Mr Abe in 2017 – on behalf of U.S. casino operators interested in getting a licence in Japan.
The report cited Mr Abe confirming that he attended a breakfast meeting during a 2017 visit to the U.S., where “a number of heads” representing U.S. casinos were present. But the Japanese leader reportedly denied at the Monday parliamentary session that Mr Trump had asked him for help regarding U.S. casino operators seeking business opportunities in Japan.
Three firms with majority-owned Macau units and operations: Las Vegas Sands Corp, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts Ltd; have respectively shown interest in pursuing an integrated resort or “IR” scheme in Japan. Other U.S. firms including: Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment; Hard Rock International and Caesars Entertainment Corp, have also expressed such interest, although Caesars has since said it has dropped out of the race.
“I don’t think [Mr Akimoto's situation] diminishes our interest in pursuing our opportunity here,” said George Tanasijevich, president and chief executive of Marina Bay Sands Pte Ltd, operator of Las Vegas Sands’ Singapore resort. The executive was being quoted on Wednesday by Nikkei Asian Review, at a casino-sector event in Yokohama city, Japan.
“We just let the process unfold, it is the government’s job and it doesn’t involve us. We stay focused preparing for the request for proposal,” he added. He was referring latterly to the phase in which local governments in Japan – seeking private-sector partners when making a casino bid to the Japanese government – would ask interested companies for firm business proposals.
Chris Gordon, president of Wynn Resorts Development LLC, was quoted by Nikkei Asian Review as saying any delay that might arise in relation to Japan’s liberalisation process was “fine” because “you don’t want to rush these things”.
Yokohama city would be able to attract “10 million more” visitors a year if Wynn Resorts were allowed to pursue an IR scheme planned by the city, reported Japanese media outlet Jiji Press, quoting Mr Gordon.
Ted Chan Ying Tat, chief operating officer of Galaxy Entertainment Japan, a unit of Macau licensee Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd, told the same news outlet: “We need to educate the public in terms of the pros and cons of integrated resorts.”
Reuters reported this week – citing a source it didn’t identify – that another suitor for a Japan licence, Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd, was cooperating with authorities in Japan as they enquire into casino bribery allegations in that country.
GGRAsia contacted Melco Resorts last week about reports that its Tokyo offices had been visited by local prosecutors amid the casino bribery scandal. We had not received any reply by the time this story went online.
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