Tokyo and Osaka, two of Japan’s largest cities, have long been primed to host international casino resorts. Now the race to the world’s last untapped gaming market is getting tighter as two US billionaires have each placed their bets on the rival cities.

Among the casino operators beating down the doors to Japan’s gaming market are Rush Gaming head Neil Bluhm, who has set his sights on Osaka and Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson, who is betting on Tokyo.

Bluhm, a 76-year-old Chicago real estate mogul, said he believes Osaka is the perfect location for casino resorts, with “shovel ready” sites and the kind of flexible local government that will help drive his project. Bluhm owns casinos in Pennsylvania, Chicago and Niagara Falls, and has a net worth of $2.6 billion, according to Forbes.

Tokyo will be more complex, more time-consuming, and more expensive, Bluhm says.

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas gaming tycoon sees Tokyo as the prime spot for possible Japanese casinos. Adelson pledged to spend $10 billion once the government gives the nod to legalize gambling in Japan.

Adelson, whose worth is close to $39 billion, says his offer cannot be rivaled by other operators.

Sands, which has casinos in Macau, Singapore and Las Vegas, is keen on tapping the potential market for Japanese casinos, given its wealthy population—and the fact that it is close enough to China to attract high-rolling Chinese gamblers.

“We are very confident in our ability to generate a return that would be satisfactory to our shareholders,” George Tanasijevich, President and CEO of Marina Bay Sands, said in a phone interview.

Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, is keen on opening up to foreign casino operators. Tokyo, meanwhile, seems to have a lot on its hands with its preparation for the Olympic Games in 2020.

One of Japan’s economic powerhouses, Osaka says it wants to construct a large casino resort with convention and entertainment facilities through a consortium of foreign operators and Japanese firms.

“Osaka city is flexible. We’re ready to discuss anything,” said Masayuki Inoue, director general of the city’s economic strategy bureau.

Public approval for Japanese casinos in Osaka remains positive, with 56 percent of residents polled in favor of a casino resort.

Tokyo is taking its prospects in stride, as the heavily populated city focuses on making room for Olympic venues.

“We’re not like Osaka and Yokohama. We haven’t stepped on the accelerator and said ‘let’s go,’ ” said Yukimasa Saito, an official at the governor’s office.

The Japanese Gaming Congress is holding a meeting May 14–16 in Tokyo to discuss casino-related legislation.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Sebra /

Japanese casinos, gambling in Japan, casinos in Tokyo