Macau junket investor Suncity Group is actively pursuing an integrated resort (IR) in Japan—and they’re alone right now.
A Japan subsidiary of the privately held firm has filed to take part in Wakayama’s request for proposal (RFP) process; Suncity, now branching out into gaming operations in Vietnam and the Philippines, says it’s looking for a local partner to help it develop a plan for an IR in Wakayama Prefecture.
So far, it has no rivals in the market, located in Japan’s Kansai region.
A Suncity spokesperson told GGRAsia the group “is open to considering appropriate candidates as partners who can contribute to the better and long-term development of the Suncity Wakayama IR.”
Three IRs will be licensed in Phase I of Japan’s gaming market liberalization;, based on results, more could be made possible after seven years. After choosing a private-sector partner, local governments will apply for licensing to the national government.
Suncity is the sole interested bidder now, but Wakayama authorities will accept proposals through August, and then choose an operating team by mid-November. The designated IR site is a 23.61-hectare (58.3-acre) plot on a manmade island known as Marina City. Suncity has selected Hong Kong-based architecture firm Aedas to design a “tailor-made” project.
Suncity described Wakayama as the “right fit” for its IR ambitions. The prefecture is easily accessible from Kansai International Airport and Osaka, which also will vie for an IR license, most likely with its sole bidder, MGM Resorts International and partner Orix Corp.
The spokesman suggested the two cities, with a “wide range of facilities and support for conventions and exhibitions,” could jointly become “a key driving force in the development of the entire Kansai region.
“With Wakayama’s beautiful natural scenery and rich historical cultures, it can serve as a hub for local and regional tours, cultural performance and entertainment,” said the spokesman. “This is what Alvin Chau, chief executive officer and director of Suncity Group, describes as ‘The Greater Kansai synergy.’”
A unit of Toronto-based Clairvest also expressed interest in Wakayama, but wants to serve as a consortium investor, or the quarterback of the project, not an operator. Other operators who considered Wakayama include Enrique Razon’s Bloomberry Resorts, based in the Philippines, and France’s Groupe Lucien Barrière, Asia Gaming Brief reported that the companies’ “absence from the RFP is clearly related to the global Covid-19 pandemic,” a statement that was confirmed by a Bloomberry representative. Barrière declined to comment.
U.S. tribal operator Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment had also shown interest in Wakayama in the past, but then switched its allegiance to Hokkaido, which has since dropped out of the IR race. Mohegan undoubtedly has a full international plate with developments of its Inspire brand IR under construction adjacent to Korea’s Incheon Airport and a recent approval for a Greek IR (see European Gaming).
The national government’s IR Basic Plan will be published by July 26 at the latest, according to a recent report from Bay City Ventures Ltd. Managing Director Joji Kokuryo.
Titled “Japan IR Timeline Update: Key Policies, Dates and Procedural Steps,” the report noted that that timeline is fixed, as changing it at this point would require revising the IR Implementation Act.
In the final version of the Basic Plan “there will most likely not be any major changes to the basic policies for facilities and gambling addiction measures” as compared to the draft version released last September.
However, the overall IR development schedule is likely to be adjusted, giving local governments and their consortium partners more time—until July of next year—to submit their bids.
The report noted that the Basic Plan is just that—a set of “‘basic policies’ and not ‘full tax requirements’ or ‘gaming regulations.’ We are still some time away from complete clarity on points such as the exact gross-gaming revenue calculation method and types of games that will be allowed on the casino floor.”
Some operators have stated they cannot commit billions of dollars to a Japan IR until they are perfectly clear on those terms.