Japan: Hurry Up and Wait

Casino operators interested in Japan will have to wait some more for legislation that could open the nascent jurisdiction. According to reports, the long-delayed casino bill could now be on track for passage in late 2016, but Mikio Tanji (l.), chairman of Gaming Capital Management, says there are still significant hurdles.

No IRs for Olympic games

Japan is unlikely to legalize casinos before the second half of 2016 at the earliest, and even that timeline may be optimistic, according to a recent report in the Asia Gaming Brief.

The latest delay makes it virtually impossible for an integrated resort with gaming to open in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, agreed analysts who attended the Macau Gaming Show.

Mikio Tanji, chairman of Gaming Capital Management, said there are still major obstacles that could prevent passage of the bill, making it uncertain that an IR site would be identified before 2019. And that’s the best-case scenario, he said. Some basics of the bill still remain unsettled, including issues of foreign ownership and whether Macau junkets will be permitted to do business in Japan (the latter is not likely, he said).

Interest remains high in the jurisdiction, where pachinko parlors have been reported to generate 19 trillion (US$187 billion) a year, the largest profit from any leisure activity in Japan, according to the Diplomat. U.S. operators like MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts have looked at Japan. And the support of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a casino bill is nothing but positive. There is continuing opposition from religious circles in the country, but it seems inevitable those concerns will eventually be outweighed by the sheer potential of the market. Fitch Ratings has estimated that two casino resorts in Yokohama, near Tokyo and Osaka could generate roughly $7 billion in gross gaming revenues, according to AGB.

Other possibly locations include the skiing destination of Hokkaido and Nagasaki, home of the Huis Ten Bosch resort.

According to a recent study on the matter cited by Kasuaki Sasaki, assistant professor at Nihon University College of Economics’ Gaming Academy, an integrated resort in Yokohama could be worth 414.4 billion yen (US$3.36 billion) to the local economy, and create more than 41,000 jobs.