The approval by Japan’s parliament – a body also known as the Diet – of a bill to legalise in principle casino gambling in the country is fuelling excitement among several U.S.-based casino operators. But two brokerages say it is likely foreign companies will only be allowed a minority stake in any Japanese gaming project.
Las Vegas Sands Corp, Wynn Resorts Ltd and Caesars Entertainment Corp – all U.S.-based firms – have reconfirmed to the Wall Street Journal their respective interest in investing in Japan, following the casino enabling bill’s approval by the Diet earlier this week.
U.S.-based casino operator MGM Resorts International went one step further, proposing to “create a coalition of Japanese business partners” to build a casino resort in Japan. The firm’s idea was included in a statement following approval by the Diet of the casino enabling bill.
“[The bill’s approval] allows us to advance our relationships with key stakeholders and together create a coalition of Japanese business partners who will collectively define a vision for a uniquely Japanese, world-class integrated resort,” the casino operator said in its statement.
The company – which has operations in Macau via subsidiary MGM China Holdings Ltd – noted it had already a “full-time development team” in Japan’s capital Tokyo. The statement added MGM Resorts was “well-prepared to pursue future expansion efforts”.
Earlier this week, Philippines-based Bloomberry Resorts Corp also reconfirmed its interest in investing in a casino resort in Japan. The firm said Japan was a “very attractive … market but it will require a huge investment”. “So if we go for a licence, we would have to tie up with a large Japanese group or company or several Japanese companies,” the firm said in a Tuesday filing.
Genting Singapore Plc is also eyeing to join the race for a casino licence in Japan, according to a November announcement.
Casino legalisation in Japan will be a two-statute process. After the enabling bill legalising casino resorts at the conceptual level, a second piece of legislation – known as the implementation bill – will detail the specifics: how casinos are administered and regulated; the taxation regime to be applied to them; their location; and the number of licences to be issued.
Several investment analysts covering the gaming sector have suggested that foreign casino operators will have to find local partners in order to be able to bid for a casino licence in Japan. Those details are yet to be decided and will only be included in the the implementation bill.
Japanese brokerage Nomura said in a Wednesday note it expected “Japanese industrial/entertainment conglomerates to compete aggressively for the two to three expected [casino] licences” in Japan. It stated it was likely for any casino project in Japan “to be majority owned by Japanese companies, but there is an important role to be played by experienced international casino companies with design and operating expertise”.
Wells Fargo Securities LLC analysts Cameron McKnight and Robert Shore noted in a Wednesday memo that it was “far too early to tell which operators and approach will ultimately secure a licence”.
They added: “We do think there will be a strong emphasis on local ownership, and it’s possible U.S. operators could end up with 25 percent to 40 percent ownership interests, which is likely below expectations… In a worst case scenario, it’s possible operators could just have a standard management agreement.”
Following the passage of Japan’s casino enabling bill, the president and chief executive of the American Gaming Association (AGA), Geoff Freeman, offered to provide “partnership and support” to the country in the development of the casino sector.
“The passage of legislation in Japan that makes possible the development of integrated resorts is truly historic,” Mr Freeman said in a statement.
AGA is a U.S.-based casino industry trade body and lobbying group. The association has been heavily involved in pushing for the legalisation of casino gambling in Japan; it hosted a forum on the topic in Tokyo in May 2015.
Mr Freeman added: “After decades of study, it is clear that the expansion of our industry in Japan will produce many of the same results it has in the United States: growth in jobs, tax revenues for community services, increased travel and tourism from domestic and foreign visitors – and vast economic expansion.”
Job creation and investment promotion were two of the reasons used last week by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to argue in favour of legalising casinos in the country. Opposition parties and other social groups have however expressed concerns over potential social ills related to the casino industry, including gambling addiction and organised crime.
"We remain fully committed to continue supporting IGT’s long-term development"
Chief executive of De Agostini, majority shareholder of lottery and gaming supplier IGT