MGM Osaka Casino Pitch Likely to Be Confirmed

In what could be a boon for MGM Resorts International’s (NYSE: MGM) global expansion efforts, Japanese policymakers appear poised to sign-off on development of a casino-resort in Osaka.

Japan casino
Downtown Osaka, Japan at night. The country is set to approve a casino plan for that city. (Image: joymckinnon.com)

Various Japanese media outlets reported Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government could give the go-ahead to the Osaka integrated resort plan as soon as Friday. The reports indicate a similar effort by Casinos Austria to bring a gaming venue to Nagasaki isn’t headed for imminent approval.

Las Vegas-based MGM is partnering with Japanese firm Orix on what’s expected to be a project with a price tag of $8.1 billion. The Bellagio operator and the Japanese financial services conglomerate partnered on the endeavor more than four years ago. Orix is the majority partner in the plan. That defrays some of the costs MGM would encounter if they were going it alone in Japan. But it also limits the gaming giant’s upside potential in the country.

Assuming the project is imminently approved as Japanese media suggest, the best case scenario for opening is some point in 2029. MGM and Orix must still be approved for gaming licenses.

For MGM, Patience Was Virtuous in Japan

For MGM, the possible approval of the Osaka casino is an example of patience being rewarded. It’s been more than four years since the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved the idea of integrated resorts in Japan. Since then, movement on the issue arrived at a snail’s pace.

Major global gaming companies eyed Japan as the Asia-Pacific region’s next great gaming market — a sentiment confirmed by analysts. However, by 2020, Las Vegas Sands grew tired of the slow pace of making Japanese casinos a reality.

After that company’s departure from the Japan casino competition, Genting, Melco Resorts & Entertainment and Wynn Resorts, among others, scrapped plans to pursue licenses in the country.

Conversely, MGM never wavered in its commitment to Japan and it may be rewarded for its perseverance. In January, S&P Global Ratings said MGM’s stake in the project is unlikely to exceed 50%, and that the most likely breakdown is 40% apiece for the casino operator and partner Orix, with the remaining 20% controlled by local investors. That echoes sentiment from the gaming company that it won’t hold a majority in the Japan venue.

Japan Casino Could Be a Win for MGM

Osaka is a centerpiece of MGM’s international expansion efforts. The operator owns 56% of MGM China, which operates two Macau integrated resorts, but the remainder of the company’s land-based portfolio is in the US.

With Singapore off-limits to new entrants and other potential markets, such as the Arab World and Thailand, still in the “show me” stage, Japan stands as the next compelling growth opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region for the gaming industry after Macau and Singapore.

An added though not guaranteed benefit for MGM is that the Osaka property could be the only casino for some time and if it lures 20 million visitors as expected, it could become of the giants of the Asia-Pacific casino landscape.

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