Odds rise for Japan casino bill

After decades of stagnation and political infighting, Japanese legislators appear poised for another push to pass a bill to pave the way for legal casinos in one of Asia’s most promising markets.

Japan’s ruling party appears set to re-submit the Bill for the Promotion of Integrated Resort Facilities, better known as the “Casino Bill,” to the current Diet session, which ends in late November.

If the bill is indeed submitted and passed, it would legalize the establishment of a handful of casinos in Japan in the coming years, mainly in certain designated major cities.

Attempts to pass the Casino Bill have been frustrated in the past by the firm opposition of the ruling coalition Komeito Party, a Buddhist affiliated organization which is concerned about a possible negative effect of public morality, including on gambling addiction rates and organized crime. Polls have consistently shown that a majority of the general Japanese public also opposes the establishment of casinos.

However, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in August, three pro-casino officials were appointed to top spots. Toshihiro Nikai was appointed secretary general, Hiroyuki Hosoda General Council chairman and Toshimitsu Motegi was named policy chief. 

Majority position

The LDP also now has an overall majority across both the upper and lower houses of parliament, meaning it can effectively guarantee passage should it come to a vote. Hiroyuki Hosoda, Secretary General of the LDP and a proponent of the casino legislation, has been cited as saying the likelihood of the IR bill being debated in the session that ends November 30 is almost 100 percent.

Sega Sammy cuts H1 pachinko sales forecast

Sega Sammy has revised down its forecast for H1, 2017 revenue due to lower pachinko and pachislot sales. The group now sees revenue of 170 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in the six months to end Sept, compared with a prior forecast for 180 billion yen. It said sales of pachinko and pachislot machines are likely to be down by 15 billion yen. However, it doubled its profit forecast due to an extraordinary gain and cost savings from the re-use of components.

Simulcasting off to racing start

Horse racing fans in Japan bet approximately $40 million on October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe from France in Japan’s first imported simulcast since a new law went into effect this year. The new law lists 24 races of international significance that can be simulcast into Japan.

Recently elected Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has also said she supports opening a casino in the nation’s capital. She said a casino project would “make the city more attractive” adding that Tokyo needed to attract “more visitors from overseas.”

Abe is keen to promote integrated resorts to boost tourism numbers in Japan. The government is seeking to attract some 20 million visitors a year by 2020. Estimates for the potential of the market vary widely depending on how many licenses are permitted and where the IRs are built, but most agree that it is likely to be the second-biggest in Asia after Macau.

No. 2 in Asia

Fitch Ratings has estimated that two integrated resorts in Tokyo and Osaka could generate roughly $7 billion in gross gaming revenues. While a recent study on the likely impact of an IR in Yokohama found that it would give a 414.4 billion yen ($3.36 billion) boost to the local economy, with a direct impact of 256.16 billion yen. It would also be likely to create more than 41,000 jobs.

In a note in July, Union Gaming said two large licenses are expected to be issued initially with one going to metro Tokyo and one to Osaka. Smaller licenses may be issued at a later date. Most of the world’s biggest operators having expressed interest in bidding for a license to operate an integrated resort. However, given the ongoing delays, the original hopes to have a property up and running in time for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are now unrealistic. If the bill is passed by the end of this year, experts have estimated that it’s unlikely that sites will be chosen for an IR zone before 2019 in a very best case scenario. 

Las Vegas Sands has previously said it may be prepared to invest as much as $10 billion in an IR in Japan, while MGM Resorts has also said it would pledge the same amount. The bill has also appeared on the verge of progressing before, only to become a victim of Japan’s political infighting.

The legislation fell off the agenda in late 2014 after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called snap elections.