If the Macau billionaire has it his way, Lawrence Ho would prefer to build a casino in Osaka than in Tokyo.
Japan has not yet decided where to put its own entertainment city months after it legalized casinos in their country but, so far, Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama are emerging as likely candidates for casino resorts under the Japanese government’s new bidding framework.
Bloomberg reported that Ho is looking for an area in Japan where “fun” is located and he apparently sees this more in Osaka and the surrounding Kansai region, home to attractions such as Universal Studios Japan and the city of Kyoto, famed for its Buddhist temples.
“When you go to the Kansai region, it’s more fun, really, and we’re a company that focuses on fun and entertainment,” Ho said, according to the business news website.
Tokyo, according to Ho, is already a popular destination given that it houses the country’s biggest companies such as Sony Corp., SoftBank Group Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. That popularity, however, is also the primary the reason why it isn’t a good idea to construct integrated casino resorts.
“I’m not so sure Tokyo needs an integrated resort,” Ho said. “Tokyo by itself is amazing. It’s like when people ask me: ‘Do you think New York and London need an integrated resort?’ No, they don’t.”
Casino development is seen as a potential boon to the gaming industry in Japan, given the nation’s wealthy population, proximity to China and familiarity with forms of wagering such as pachinko — a ubiquitous pinball-like game — and horse and boat race betting.
MGM Resorts was among the first companies to throw its hat into the ring for a chance to open one of Japan’s first integrated resorts. In November, CEO Jim Murren said MGM are willing to invest between JPY500 billion and JPY1 trillion (USD4.8 billion-9.5 billion) to open an integrated resort in Tokyo, Yokohama or Osaka by 2022 or 2023.
The operator, however, is bound to face intense competition for the Japanese IR license. Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson recently announced that he is ready to spend as much as USD10 billion to build a Japanese resort, while Ho said Melco is prepared to “spend whatever it takes to win.”
Japan may greenlight two to three casinos, with locations and operators chosen by 2019, but at the moment, how licenses will be awarded remains up in the air.
“Right now, there is a lot of speed dating,” Ho said. “Sometimes, I go into a Japanese corporate’s office, and then I walk out and I see our competitors in the lobby.”