Expo vibe patiently upbeat as bid progresses

Gambling experts await green light

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

At last month’s Global Gaming Expo Asia (G2E) in Macau, casino and resort operators, game machine manufacturers, government officials and countless others gathered to review gaming laws and markets in countries ranging from Vietnam to China and the Philippines.

But at this year’s G2E in the 3,000-room Venetian Macao resort, which boasts a shopping arcade mimicking the canals of Venice and acres of casino space large enough to host thousands of attendees from over 70 countries, it was Japan, the one major Asian country without casinos, that was on the minds of many attendees.

“There are a couple of things that are different this time about the movement in Japan to legalize gaming through integrated resorts compared to past discussions. First, there is now political stability with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Second, there’s a renewed emphasis on the economy with ‘Abenomics,’ and this type of economic project fits in with those macroeconomic policies,” said Ed Bowers, senior vice president of global gaming development at MGM Resorts International, which is interested in building a casino in Osaka.

Gaming professionals noted that, unlike Tokyo, Osaka government officials have been very proactive in courting international resort operators and interest in the city is high. However, Bowers and Japanese gaming officials present in Macau, while optimistic, were also cautious.

“It’s going to take time. The IR promotion bill now being considered in the Diet has to be passed, probably in the autumn session. Within a year after that, the government has to draw up the legal framework for casinos and then amend or create new legislation necessary to allow casinos,” said Takashi Kiso, CEO of the International Casino Institute, a Japanese think tank and lobby group.

Nobody in Macau was placing bets on whether casino gambling would arrive in Japan before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But there was a general feeling that, when Japan does open its first integrated resort with a casino in Osaka or elsewhere, it will likely be a hybrid of the casino models found in Singapore and Macau.

“The Singapore model restricts entry of locals, with controls such as entrance fees and third-party blacklisting (those on welfare or with bad financial records). At the Venetian in Macau, you have a casino right in the middle of the complex. But in Singapore, the casino had to be more hidden, and those wanting to go would have to find it themselves. There are also severe restrictions on advertising,” said Steve Park, managing director of KORE Co., a Seoul-based consulting firm to the international gaming industry.

“The Macau model is freer but puts more responsibility on individuals to ensure they don’t end up in harm’s way. Singapore, though, is paternalistic,” Park said.

“If you look at South Korea, a Confucian-based culture, or Japan, also very conservative, the paternalistic model of restrictions has to be to their nature. That’s probably why those countries’ officials like the Singapore model better than the Macau or Las Vegas model.”