Japan Eyeing Casinos

Toru Mihara, an adviser to Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s casino study group, told Bloomberg News that Japan has recently been involved in talks with international casino operators such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.

The Japanese government would like to lift the current ban on casino gambling sometime after 2010, according to Mihara, and is eyeing Tokyo as the first Japanese city to open a gaming resort.

The overwhelming appeal of such a move for casino operators is the relative wealth of “ordinary people” in Japan. The government, however, is more interested in tax revenues for itself. Japan’s gaming industry is dominated by racing and lotteries – which have been on the decline for a number of years – as well as pachinko (pin-ball), which is “stagnating.”

The main obstacle seems to be the legislative process itself. Debates in Japan’s Diet tend to go on and on, especially with regard to an issue like gambling, which many Japanese equate with organized crime.

However, Mihara told Bloomberg that the LDP is busy trying to generate consensus to legalize casinos, and will present a draft bill to lawmakers by 2008.

Mihara said that local tieups are possible, but he expects that casinos in Japan will mostly be operated by foreign entities. He also estimates that about 80 percent of the customers will be Japanese, and thus does not worry about competition from the main future gaming centers in Asia, Macau and Singapore.

– Philip Brasor