No resorts seen in Japan before 2026

Japan is unlikely to see its first IR open before 2026 and significant hurdles still need to be overcome both from an operational and legislative standpoint, according to panellists at the ASEAN Gaming Summit.

According to Jay Defibaugh, senior research analyst at CLSA Securities, the market has the potential to generate GGR of about $25 billion beyond 2030. His estimate is based on two urban IRs and 10 regional properties.

Spectrum Gaming Group Managing Director Fred Gushin put the likely size of the market at $30 billion to $35 billion in 10 to 15 years.

However, experts on the panel all warned that the potential of the market that the majority of global operators are now pushing to enter will ultimately depend on the regulations, which still have to be put into place.

The government  has not said how many licenses it will issue in the first round, or specified a tax rate, which some fear may be high. There is also little clarity on the level of foreign ownership that will be permitted. These are all factors that will have a significant impact on market size and the appeal to foreign investors.

Daniel Cheng, senior VIP casinos, Asia, at Hard Rock International said he is hopeful there may be some detail from the government next week on just how many licenses the government will put out to tender.

“I agree that it will be a huge market if it is properly legislated,” Cheng said. “It’s very likely the rules and regulations might be tighter than Singapore.”

The appeal of the market comes from a large population base of about 127 million people, mostly middle class and with a large disposable income. They have also been shown to have a high propensity to gamble, given the size of the domestic pachinko industry. On top of that tourism numbers are strong.

However, Masahiro Terada, senior manager at the integrated resorts team at PWC Consulting, says that some may be overestimating the support the IRs will get from the local market at least in the initial years after IRs open.

“The local market is not mature,” he told the panel. “In five to ten years, then the local market will expand.”

Among the operators seeking a license in Japan are Las Vegas Sands, MGM China, Wynn Resorts, Hard Rock, Caesars International, Melco Resorts & Entertainment, Galaxy Entertainment and Rush Street Gaming.

The IR operator will first be chosen by the local government in the area the resort will be built. The local government will then take that pitch to the central government in Tokyo who will make the final choice.

Panellists all agreed that the winning operator will need to have a strong and proven track record and impeccable reputation, though the need to work with a local partner may create issues.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see how it sorts itself out,” Gushin said, adding that historically, most partnerships in the gaming industry have not ended well. “It’s going to go to the company that thinks outside the box and provides the real wow factor.”