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When are we likely to see integrated resorts in Japan?

Construction has not even started, the locations of casinos have not been picked, and licenses have not been issued to companies to operate them. With this in mind, when are we likely to see a casino open its doors to gamers in Japan?

In July 2018, members of the Japanese Diet (parliament) voted to approve landmark legislation that made it legal for casinos to operate on its territory. The new law allowed for a total of three integrated resorts to be opened with the intention of driving tourists to the country. 

Two years on, no casinos have been built. In fact, construction has not even started, the locations of casinos have not been picked, and licenses have not been issued to companies to operate them. With this in mind, when are we likely to see a casino open its doors to gamers in Japan?

Long time coming
The possibility of opening a casino in Japan has been discussed by politicians and business people for over two decades. In 2000, the Governor of Tokyo proposed building an artificial island called Odaiba off the coast of the city. The plans were welcomed by the public but did not progress anywhere. He later proposed the idea of a floating casino located on a boat, but this plan also failed to materialise. 

Further discussions took place in 2006 when the country’s Liberal Democratic Party released a report titled “Basic policy for introducing casino entertainment in Japan”. Its recommendations were also not implemented. 

The only betting that is permitted is on horse racing, some motorsports, lotteries, and a pinball game called pachinko. 

Japanese casino resort as “The Holy Grail”
In December 2016, when the first part of the legislation was passed by the Diet, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, described a casino in the country as the “holy grail”.

In fact, Japan won’t be the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to embrace integrated resorts. Singapore opened its two casinos in 2010, while Macau has been a regional gaming centre for decades. 

Manila is also a popular gaming destination, with large resorts like the Red Dragon Manila and the Okada Manila, both of whom host regular rounds of the PokerStars Asia Pacific Poker Tour.

All of these casinos operate as integrated resorts, mixed-use developments that combine hotels, conference space, casinos, and restaurants. Many also have retail outlets where you can buy anything from a new bag to a private jet. This helps to make the facilities appeal to a broad demographic of customers, helping to diversify and extend its revenue. 

Adelson of Las Vegas Sands has been reported as describing his successful Singapore casino as the “warm-up” to a Japanese integrated resort. 

Japan
Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

The next step
Once the legislation was passed in 2018, a bidding process began for cities and potential operators. Some of these companies include famous names like MGM Resorts, Genting, and Las Vegas Sands. 

In February 2020, MGM Resorts was awarded the first license in Osaka after no other companies submitted a bid. The remaining two licenses are yet to be awarded. When they are, they’ll pave the way for new casinos in Yokohama and Tokyo. 

Withdrawals
Even the bidding process has not been smooth sailing. In May 2020, Las Vegas Sands pulled out of the bidding process, despite Adelson’s optimism about the prospect of an integrated resort in Tokyo. It cited technicalities in the “regulatory framework” for operating a casino that will prevent the company from achieving its objectives in the country. 

However, he said he still hopes that his company will open a casino in the country one day. 

2023 at the earliest
While no firm dates have been put on the opening of a casino yet, it’s believed that 2023 will be the earliest that the first integrated resort will open. Once the remaining licenses are awarded, designs for the buildings need to be drawn up by architects and approved by government officials. 

Construction of a large resort building will likely take 1-2 years once all of the bureaucracy has been overcome. So assuming licenses are issued before the end of 2020, the design and construction process will take around three years. 

Main photo by Louie Martinez on Unsplash

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TravelDailyNews Asia-Pacific editorial team has an experience of over 35 years in B2B travel journalism as well as in tourism & hospitality marketing and communications.

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