Lawson, Suntory execs to join casino push

Bloomberg

Business leaders, including top executives at Lawson Inc. and Suntory Holdings Ltd., are joining forces to back the legalization of casinos in Japan, a proposal that could open up what is estimated to be the world’s second- largest gaming market.

Lawson Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Niinami and Suntory Executive Vice President Shingo Torii are among corporate and academic leaders forming a group to support a legalization bill introduced by lawmakers, said Hiroshi Mizohata, a former head of the Japan Tourism Agency, who will also be a member.

Niinami, who heads the nation’s second-largest convenience store chain, and Torii, of the country’s third-biggest brewer, expect to add momentum behind a bill submitted last month by lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to legalize resorts that combine casinos with hotels and convention centers. Casino operators from MGM Resorts International to Wynn Resorts Ltd. plan to spend billions of dollars to build gambling resorts here if they are legalized, the companies have said.

Along with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, allowing casino resorts in Japan “will provide a spark for not just tourism, but also for the revitalization of local economies in the countryside,” Mizohata said in an interview. “We want to get various stakeholders involved.”

The group will work closely with lawmakers in support of the bill, make policy recommendations in collaboration with local governments and companies, and advocate for legalization to the public, Mizohata said. It will have a preparatory meeting on Feb. 5 and be officially formed around May, he said.

The organization plans to recruit members from local governments, business lobbies and companies, and will be financed by membership fees, Mizohata said. He said the group will not accept funding from casino operators.

While betting on horse, boat and bicycle races is allowed in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, casinos are banned.

Legalizing them may generate an estimated $10 billion in annual revenue, according to Union Gaming Group, a Las Vegas- and Macau-based investment bank focused on the casino industry.

Macau, home to China’s only legal casinos, is the world’s largest gambling hub.

Lawmakers pushing for legalization have said they intend to pass a bill asking the government to create a legal framework for casinos while the Diet is in session. A bill on casino operating rules will also need to be approved.