A senior MGM Resorts International executive on Wednesday said his company was still “very optimistic” about the prospects for casinos in Japan despite the news of a snap general election called for mid-December.
Bill Hornbuckle (pictured), president of MGM Resorts, told GGRAsia at an event in Macau: “We remain very optimistic. While it’s not the outcome we would have hoped for this special session we will stay engaged through this time next year.”
That was a reference to the current autumn sitting of Japan’s parliament, the Diet. The sitting is also known as the Extraordinary Session.
There had been hope among the casino industry and a cross party lobby of Japanese lawmakers that the bill to establish the legal principle of casino resorts could have been passed by the end of the current Diet session on November 30.
That might have offered hope that at least one resort would be ready by 2020, to coincide with the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In February Bloomberg News reported that MGM Resorts might be willing to spend up to US$10 billion to build a large casino resort in Japan. Several investment analysts have suggested Japan could become the second largest casino market in Asia by gross gaming revenue – surpassed only by Macau – if the casino policy could be pushed through.
But last week it was reported that any attempt to pass the enabling bill in the current session had been abandoned due to lack of time.
And on Tuesday it was announced that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was to call a snap election for next month to delay a scheduled second rise in sales tax and gauge public opinion on the issue.
Mr Hornbuckle, commenting on the prospects for casino legislation, told us: “There’s a lot of work…but I think the principals [people within Japan] that got it to this point are going to stay engaged. I think how this thing is approached going forward may change a little bit, but I think you will see ourselves and several of our competitor colleagues [involved]. The opportunity is just too great to walk away.”
The executive also suggested that the lack of progress on the first of two pieces of casino legislation – also known as the Integrated Resorts (IR) Bill – did not indicate the proposal lacked merit in the eyes of Japanese lawmakers.
He told us: “There were 51 bills submitted to the special Diet session. One got passed as of last week. Obviously the snap election puts the balance of them [the bills] back at square one.”
Mr Hornbuckle added: “There are some [bills] that are of substance. We would like to think that the one for our industry is meaningful in terms of tourism, but until we come to January and understand what the new [government] line up is…we’re not going to take a position on strategy on how we progress it [a casino bid] and when we progress it.
“There are several [Japanese] bureaucrats…still engaged in the process…we continue to help in that regard. We are going to keep focused and keep going.”
Although he added: “If we get to the same point next year and there’s no progress, that might be a different story.”
Mr Hornbuckle was speaking before the launch of an art exhibition at MGM Macau to mark the 15th anniversary of Macau’s return in 1999 from Portuguese administration to that of China. The anniversary falls on December 20.
The art display launch was also attended by Macau’s current Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On; Macau’s first post-handover chief executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah; Pan Yundong, Deputy Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China in Macau; and Pansy Ho Chiu King, co-chairperson and executive director of Macau casino operator MGM China Holdings Ltd.
Mr Hornbuckle is also an executive director of MGM China, which is 51 percent owned by MGM Resorts.
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President and chief operating officer of Macau-based casino operator Sands China