It’s hard to ignore a potential $40 billion revenue boost and, after years of debate, the Japanese government has legalized casinos in an attempt to capitalize on tourism and develop a full-blown gambling market in the island nation.
Last week, lawmakers in an upper-house committee approved a bill that leaders hope will put Japan in a place to compete in Asia’s huge gaming market. Japan boasts the world’s third-biggest economy and has spent years losing potential revenue to casinos in Macau and Singapore while opposition debated the pitfalls of gambling addiction and other social ills.
Rumor has it that several major casino operators are eyeing Japan as the next big gambling mecca, including Crown Resorts (James Packer’s Australian company), Las Vegas Sands, and Wynn Resorts. All three companies have sent representatives to Japan to lobby for the legislation, according to The Guardian.
“For the investment community, Japan is seen as the crown jewel of Asian gaming development outside of Macau,” Grant Govertsen, a research analyst at Union Gaming, told the New York Times. “It would be shocking if Japan doesn’t become the number two market in Asia [overnight].”
That night is a long way away, however. The first casinos will take years to license and a few more to build, and neither of those things can happen before legislation is drafted deciding the number and location of casino resorts, rates of taxation, and admission regulations. These hurdles insure visitors to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics won’t be throwing down bets in between events; the first casinos aren’t expected to open until 2022 at the earliest.
While it may take a while for the casinos to actually come to fruition, U.S. companies are already profiting from the decision. When the legislation cleared the parliamentary panel last week, shares of major players in the gaming industry skyrocketed: Sands closed up more than three percent, with MGM and Wynn gaining more than two percent by the end of the day.
“We continue to believe Japan represents a long-term value creation opportunity for those operators fortunate enough to operate integrated resorts within the market,” Stifel analyst Steven Wieczynski told CNBC. “However, we sense it could take a number of years until a shovel is put in the ground and the selected operators begin generating cash flow on what is expected to be rather sizable capital investments.”
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