Tokyo Odds of Entering Japan Casino Pool Remain Long, Leading Observer Says

Tokyo would be a most ideal setting for a multibillion-dollar integrated resort (IR) casino development. But Japan’s capital city has thus far remained on the sidelines.

Japan Tokyo casino IR integrated resort
Japan Tokyo casino IR integrated resort
People walk in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district in April of 2020. Japan’s capital hasn’t yet announced its pursuit of a casino resort, as three gaming licenses become available next month. (Image: The New York Times)

Japan is slowly inching towards becoming a nation with legal commercial casinos. The country passed its basic policy on gambling more than three years ago.

The 2018 bill authorizes up to three IR destinations. Interested prefectures and cities are to yield their casino pitches to Japan’s central government beginning next month.

Tokyo isn’t expected to be one of the initial submitters. Though leaders in Japan’s largest city and most important business hub have considered how a casino would integrate with the metro area, Governor Yuriko Koike (Independent) has not offered her support of such an undertaking.

The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populated metropolis in the world, with more than 37.4 million people.

Game of Cat and Mouse

Bay City Ventures Managing Director Joji Kokuryo is a leading advisor on Japan’s path to authorizing casino venues. He says unless Gov. Koike specifically — and publicly — states Tokyo’s intent to land one of the three IR rights, the major players such as Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts shouldn’t be expected to mull an entry in the capital region.

“This all comes down to a decision by Governor Koike. No one should doubt that Tokyo could include an IR in an Odaiba redevelopment plan. However, anything less than a governor comment is just speculation,” Kokuryo explained.

The expert observer of Japan’s legalization process says there is no reason for a Sands or Wynn to commit to Tokyo unless the prefecture and city confirms its IR candidacy. Spending time and resources, Kokuryo adds, on a Tokyo IR development plan without design specifics detailed by Tokyo is a pointless endeavor.

I am very surprised by the amount of speculation regarding Tokyo raising their hand for an IR and the US operators coming back,” Kokuryo explained. He went on to say that a worse-case scenario in Tokyo’s eyes would be for it to commit to a casino, and then not have a major IR scheme pitched by a globally known casino firm.

“The Tokyo government would need to have confidence that one of the major operators would be coming if they moved forward with an IR. You can see we have a chicken-and-egg situation,” Kokuryo suggested.

Macau of Little Importance

It was a dismal week for the six licensed commercial casino operators in China’s Macau. After the Special Administrative Region (SAR) said it would take a more active regulatory role in its gaming industry in the years ahead, shares of the publicly traded companies tanked.

More than $18.4 billion in market capitalization was lost during trading last week. Asked by if Macau’s potentially less attractive operating market might spur more interest in Japan, Kokuryo answered that it’s doubtful.

“The recent updates on Macau’s direction likely does not have any new effect on Las Vegas Sands’ interest in Japan. Macau tightening regulations has always been on the table and there are still a lot of details yet to be clarified,” he concluded.

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