Coronavirus unlikely to slow Japanese IR race

By Noah Taylor Updated
Wakayama provides clarity on financial investors in integrated resort

The Covid-19 pandemic is unlikely, for now, to affect the timetable of Japanese local governments seeking private sector partners for a tilt respectively at having a casino resort in that country.

GGR Asia reports that Brendan Bussman, a partner at casino industry consultancy Global Market Advisors LLC and its director of government affairs said that the largest immediately challenges are at the local level in cities like Yokohama as they desire public input into their process.

The presence in Japan of the coronavirus-related illness had “limited that ability to host some of these public forums,” but suitor-cities were currently avoiding “letting their timeline slip as they seek to find the right operators to develop an IR in their region,” added the consultant, referring to integrated resorts.

According to late-January commentary by the national government amid the alleged bribery scandal linked to the casino policy prior to the coronavirus alert, Japan planned to stick to a previously-mentioned mentioned for the IR plan.

Under it, local governments would have from January to July in 2021 to apply for the right to host a casino report.

Up to three will be permitted in the first phase of liberalisation.

Cases rising in Japan

Japan had recorded more than 1500 Covid-19 infections, an illness that can lead to pneumonia and can be fatal, as of Sunday, according to Japanese media reports.

Measured by prefecture, the country’s northernmost such authority, Hokkaido, had seen the highest number of infection cases, recording more than 140.

By Friday, both houses of Japan’s parliament had approved a bill giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe power to declare a state of emergency over Covid-19, if necessary.

According to local reports, he has not done that so far.

But under the measure, prefectural governments would be empowered to instruct local residents to stay indoors and would be able to cancel public events.

The authorities would also have powers to take control – temporarily – of facilities that could be used to supplement standard healthcare premises.

“While Japan continues to take precautions surrounding the coronavirus, there does not seem to be any major slowdown in the overall time line for integrated resorts in Japan, said Mr Bussman.

“There are still more than 16 months before applications need to be in to the central government,” he noted to us.

Another consultant, Daniel Cheng, told us the Japanese government appeared to be “adamant” regarding its desire to keep on course the country’s integrated resorts liberalisation process.

“If in the next two weeks the national government issued its so-called IR basic policy – it had said in January it would do so before the end of March – that would be a good indicator of whether the process was still on track,” Mr Cheng said.

He said: “The senior leadership had already insisted in the Diet debates that Covid-19 and integrated resorts are mutually exclusive.

“In fact, the coronavirus actually provided some relief from the persistent media lens on the IR bribery scandal.

Mr Cheng is a former senior vice president for business development – casinos, covering Asia, at United States-based Hard Rock International.

Galaxy takes out coronavirus loans

Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group says it has subscribed to US$12.9 million worth of special social bonds issued by Bank of China.

The casino firm said in a Thursday announcement that the proceeds from its subscription to the instruments – described as Covid-19 impact alleviation social bonds – would be used to provide “special loans and reduce the financing costs of Macau small and medium-sized enterprises that provide healthcare and medical supplies or manufacture medical devices.

GGR Asia reports that Galaxy Entertainment said this was to “support the recovery of the local production and supply of epidemic-prevention and control products.”

The statement said the instrument was the first certified social bond issued by a Chinese financial institution.

Galaxy Entertainment’s vice chairman, Franchis Lui Yiu Tung was quoted in the announcement as saying the subscription would “help offer prompt and efficient assistance to local SMEs and alleviate their operating and financing pressures amid this critical period.”

Lei Wai Nong, Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance, also attended a Thursday ceremony marking the bond subscription announcement.

Other Galaxy Entertainment initiatives during the coronavirus alert have included waiving the fixed-rental fee for all the group’s tenants during February, said the firm.

That is understood to be a reference to shops and food and drink outlets at the company’s casino resorts.

Its flagship Cotai property is a Galaxy Macau on Cotai.

It also runs Broadway Macau next door, which hosts Broadway Food Street, a mix of outdoor food stalls and small local restaurants.

The group’s main property on Macau peninsula is the StarWorld Hotel.

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