Smaller towns are in the odds to host casinos

Business - November 28th, 2013
Wheel of fortune

One of the world’s last untapped gaming markets, Japan is cozying to the idea of casino gambling to lure in foreign tourists as the population continues to age.

Japanese lawmakers are proposing a bill to legalize casinos in hopes they would draw tourists, generate tax revenues and reverse demographic decline.

Even before the floodgates open, casino operators are lining up to enter Japan—a gambling market that could generate $15 billion yearly—and marking Tokyo and Osaka as gambling hubs. But hot springs towns also want their share, such as the southern city of Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture and the port city of Otaru in Hokkaido.

The bill aims to legalize casinos by December 6 and enact concrete laws in 2005. Lawmakers have also proposed two types of licenses—one for large integrated resorts run by global operators and another for more compact casinos in the countryside.

Business and political leaders want to secure one of those spots for a proposed casino in Sasebo, where they plan to build a casino alongside the windmills and canals of Huis Ten Bosch, a 17th century Dutch Town theme park community.

“Tokyo shouldn’t absorb everything,” said Hideo Sawada, the chairman of travel agent H.I.S., which owns Huis Ten Bosch. “We need balanced growth between Tokyo and the local cities.”

More are also vying for smaller, compact casinos across Japan that could be fitted in hotels or other buildings.

“There are buildings that could be reutilized and rejuvenated in Japan,” Switzerland’s Grand Casino Luzern CEO Wolfgang Bliem said. “The casino operation should blend into the community.”

Tokyo and Osaka has gained the attention of Las Vegas Corp and MGM Resorts International. Macau casino mogul Lawrence Ho also has his sights on the two cities to develop casinos.

Caesars Entertainment Corp said both Hokkaido and Okinawaw were on its radar for gambling hubs. Hokkaido, a popular tourist destination, draws in tourists throughout the year.

The bill is expected to pass smoothly in parliament with the backing of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the business-friendly Liberal Democratic Party. Japan is looking into legalizing casinos by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Zdenko Zivkovic/Flickr