Melco Resorts & Entertainment CEO Lawrence Ho Yau-lung has set June 2018 as the pivotal month in Japanese casino licensing plans. June 2018 is the month Melco’s chief executive expects licenses to be awarded to international casino operators from China, United States, and elsewhere.
South China Morning Post reported the 40-year old gaming executive saying, “Japan is an amazing place, but it just got 20 million visitors a year. Look at Macau, it got well over 30 million visitors. Hong Kong got more than 40 million visitors. There is a lot of potential in the market.”
Lawrence Ho, the son of China’s “King of Gambling”, Stanley Ho, suggests that Japan’s tourism industry would receive a huge boost from casino gaming. Las Vegas received 43 million visitors in 2016 alone, twice what all of Japan receives in international tourists.
Whether it is an Osaka Strip or a set of 4 integrated resorts spread around the nation of 127 million people, casinos would draw a new set of tourists.
Ho: “We Probably Know by June”
Ho once he would spend “whatever it takes“ to secure a Japanese integrated resort license. Melco faces a crowded field of casino developers which includes Las Vegas Sands Corp, MGM Resorts, Galaxy Entertainment, and other giants of the global casino industry.
Of the casino licensing process itself, he said, “We probably know (the result) by June.”
Melco Resorts Company Profile
Melco Resorts is a substantial casino developer itself. In Macau, Melco owns City of Dreams, Altira Resort, and Studio City. Melco also developed City of Dreams Manila, as successful resort in the Philippines.
Those are not the only casinos owned by Lawrence Ho, estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.6 billion. Near Vladivostok, Russia, Lawrence Ho owns Tigre de Cristal. Lawrence and Stanley Ho have discussed partnering on a second Russia casino in the Socchi special administrative zone.
Lawrence Ho also signed a deal in June for the first licensed casino in Cyprus.
Lawrence Ho Wants to Build a Legacy
Lawrence Ho’s desire to expand globally is his way of measuring up against the legends of the world’s casino industry. Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, thus it is the next great frontier in the emerging global leisure niche. Ho talks as if it is his chance to build a legacy.
Ho said in a recent interview, “In our industry, there are so many legends. Like my father, Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, they all created something.”
Japanese Integrated Resort Bill
In recent months, a number of top operators have complained about the agency writing Japanese casino regulations, saying they are too rigid and disqualifying to produce a first-class integrated casino-resort niche. Lawrence Ho says that developers have to embrace a unique vision to make a Japanese resort successful — a vision Ho believes he has.
Instead of offering row-after-row packed with electronic gaming machines, Japanese casinos need to offer world-class shows and high-quality services. Coming from a man who once said Chinese customers would never flock to non-gaming amenities in Macau, it is a bold statement.
Of course, Lawrence Ho is also the same man who paid $70 to have Martin Scorcese, Robert DeNiro, and Leonardo DiCaprio produce a 15-minute movie short for the grand opening of Studio City in 2016.
“Improve the Guest Experience”
The key, said Ho, is “to improve the guest experience and to incorporate more technology into our services…to use artificial intelligence and technology to customise the experience for customers.”
The founder of Melco Resorts believes his company has the wherewithal to secure a Japanese casino license. Being a true believer in Japan’s gaming and tourism industry will not hurt, though the large database of potential Chinese high rollers and China’s mass market of gamblers also helps. Ho said, “We have a strong Asian focus, and we are a brand that is well known in China.”
Macau Casino Operators Interested in Japan
Of course, Ho faces familiar rivals. Las Vegas Sands and Galaxy Entertainment are the No. 1 and No. 3 operators in Macau, so they also the know-how and resources to go along with a massive Asian player databases. So does MGM Resorts International, which owns the MGM Macau.
All the companies are giants of the global gaming industry, and they might not be the only operators. Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts might get involved, while the Malaysian multinational conglomerate, Genting Group, would be a formidable license applicant.
No native Japanese development companies are likely to make a pitch. Most believe the IR Bill will call for international developers to partner with a Japanese firm, so the major companies involved in the pachinko industry, for instance, might well sign a partnership deal with Melco, MGM, LVS, or Galaxy.
“Greatest Development Opportunities…Will Be in Asia”
Lawrence Ho said Japan has huge potential, but any operators there must approach it with proper caution. Ho said, “We want to do it wisely. We had many opportunities [to] go into Las Vegas, Bbt every time, we shied away from that (because) the greatest development opportunities for years to come will be in Asia.”