Bet On Japan?

Since Tokyo was announced as the host of the 2020 Games, the Japanese media has been filled with stories about the legalization of casino gambling in the capital, and maybe even the rest of Japan.

Photo: AP Photo / Matt Rourke

Tokyo and other municipalities have for years talked about developing gambling resorts to tap the very lucrative Asian gaming market that has recently made Macau and Singapore the hottest tourist destinations in the region.

Apparently, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, despite certain conservative members who still believe that legalized gambling would mean the collapse of Japanese civilization, is keen on making it happen and has made casino development the first order of business for the national assembly’s supplemental session this fall.

Anticipating this probability, Union Gaming, a U.S.-based investment bank, set up a conference in Tokyo earlier this month to provide industry heavyweights with a forum to make pitches for their wares.

Among the participants were MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Wynn Resorts Ltd., all of which outlined their vision for gambling resorts in Japan, now considered, according to an article on the conference by Reuters, “the last great untapped [casino] market due to its wealthy population and proximity to China.”

Union Gaming projects revenues of more than $15 billion a year, which would put Japan’s gaming market second only to Macau.

Many of the Olympics accommodations and some venues will be in the waterfront area of Odaiba, where former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara originally envisioned a casino resort complex.

The area had been developed for an international expo in the ’90s that never materialized, but Ishihara’s scheme met obstacles, most from the National Police Agency, which feared that gaming would be taken over by organized crime.

In the meantime, a bipartisan group of national lawmakers came up with the idea of creating special zones where certain regulations would not apply, bypassing the difficult and time-consuming process of changing those laws. 

The bill that will be proposed in the next session of the national assembly will essentially make such zones possible.

After that is passed, other, more detailed legislation will follow.

It is hoped that construction of actual casino resorts will commence by 2016, which means they could be open in time for the Olympics. In addition to Tokyo, Osaka is also very interested in building a casino resort complex and the participants of the conference returned that interest.