Lawrence Ho Predicts 2019 Japanese Casino Licensing Process
Lawrence Ho, the CEO of Melco Resorts and Entertainment, said recently that a bidding on Japanese casino licenses could begin in 2019, if everything goes according to plan. Mr. Ho previously said Japan the casino license application process might begin in the summer of 2018.
Details on Japan’s Integrated Resort Bill and the subsequent licensing process remain vague, though most information suggests 3 to 4 casino licenses are going to be available. The Japanese casino industry could generate anywhere between $10 billion and $30 billion a year, depending on regulations and how many casino licenses are offered.
A variety of locations have been discussed for the proposed casinos. The artificial island of Yumeshima in Osaka Bay has been discussed at length, with a several developers most interested in an Osaka casino.
Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands Corp. has suggested he would prefer a casino in either Osaka or Tokyo, while Neil Bluhm of Chicago’s Rush Street Gaming pursued the idea of an Osaka casino years ago.
Casinos in Rinku or Wakayama?
Rinku Town in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, is another location which has been discussed by Japanese lawmakers. So has the city of Wakayama, which is located on the Kii Peninsula in the Wakayama Prefecture in the Kansai region on Honshu.
The speculation about cities like Rinku Town or Wakayama indicate the high level of uncertainty in the process at the moment. Many casino developers have been concerned about rumors that Japan’s lawmakers will impose strict regulations on Japanese residents, which would make casino investments far less lucrative.
Despite the protests, not everyone is scared by such rumors.
Caesars Tomakomai Casino
Caesars Entertainment Corp’s CEO Mark Frissora visited Japan earlier this month. Caesars has discussed building a resort in Tomakomai in northern Japan (artist rendering pictured above), a plan that would spread the wealth to more distant regions of Japan. Such a plan appeals to certain lawmakers and many residents, who would prefer to keep the casino-resorts away from the major population centers.
If so, then Caesars Entertainment would be employing a strategy much different than Las Vegas Sands. Caesars has been mired in a complicated bankruptcy process for its operations division the past few years, but with the CEOC reorganization approved, is now better positioned to compete for a casino license. Fellow Las Vegas casino companies, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts, have expressed interest in a Japanese casino. Galaxy Entertainment, the biggest Chinese casino company, also wants a Japanese license.
Tokyo or Yokohama Casinos?
That is a problem for many proponents of integrated casino resorts in Japan, mostly notably many of the casino developers. Their idea is to locate casinos near Tokyo, Yokohama, or Osaka, where they gambling resorts would generate the most revenues. They warn that locating resorts in faraway islands would limit revenue generation.
Lawrence Ho has not stated his preference for a casino site in Japan, but has said he would “pay whatever price” to secure one of the licenses. Ho’s Melco Resorts is based in Macau, where he owns famous casinos like City of Dreams Macau, Altira, and Studio City.
“City of the Future”
Mr. Ho, who is the son of China’s “King of Gambling”, Stanley Ho, also owns City of Dreams Manila in the Philippines and Tigre de Cristal near Vladivostok, Russia. Lawrence Ho also is developing City of Dreams Mediterranean in Cyprus. Ho provisional plan for a Japanese casino project is called the “City of the Future”, though few other details have been revealed.
To start a licensing process in early 2019, Japanese lawmakers would need to approve the Integrated Resorts Implementation Bill in the summer of 2018. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s effort to finalize a bill seems to have been mired in a variety of scandals, despite dramatic success in the 2017 parliamentary election.
LDP Wants April 2018 Bills
Members of Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party want to jump-start the process, because they want to see Japanese casinos opened within 3 to 4 years. The legislation is part of an overall plan to generate new revenues for the Japanese economy.
Key LDP lawmakers say that April 2018 is the key month, if casino licensing is to begin in 2019. April is the deadline for new bills to be introduced to the Japanese Diet, if they want votes on the legislation this year. Thus, one can expect to hear about a new casino bill to be introduced to parliament in the coming weeks.