Japan’s casino licensing process could be delayed due to COVID-19

By Mia Chapman Updated
Wakayama provides clarity on financial investors in integrated resort

The Japanese Government is considering making changes to its integrated resorts timeline due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

European Gaming reports that Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Kazuyoshi Akaba has said the government is planning to change the timetable for licensing casino resorts.

According to the minister, the government is assessing the pandemic’s negative impact on the casino sector.

He told the media that: “Some IR operators who have partnered with local governments are in a difficult situation due to the impact of the new coronavirus, and there have been opinions saying that the future is uncertain.”

He reportedly added: “We will act carefully, and once we have properly confirmed the situation with local governments on the ground.”

It must be noted that the Japanese government has not yet published a basic policy on IRs. Lack of such a policy also forces the prefectural governments to postpone their own processes of selecting a private-sector partner.

Earlier, the government had reportedly decided to publish an IR policy on July 26. A change of timeline of IR licensing now looks inevitable, the report said.

Wynn leaves Yokohama office as casino licence process stalls

A leading contender for a Japanese integrated resort licence has closed its Yokohama office after the country announced it would delay its decision due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan Times reported earlier in August that Wynn Resorts’ Yokohama office closure shouldn’t be taken to mean they aren’t interested in the project.

“The pandemic is having an unprecedented negative impact on integrated resort development, and resort companies such as Wynn are considering how we evolve our operations to align with a post-pandemic market,” the company said on Sunday.

“Long-term, we remain interested in the Japan integrated resort market and will monitor the situation closely.”

Wynn has been pursuing a casino in Japan for years.

The country had been considered one of the top prizes in the industry, given Japan’s population and wealth.

Japanese legislators approved the country’s first Vegas-style casino developments, known as integrated resorts, but none have yet been built.

A decision to focus on the US market prompted Caesars Entertainment to end its pursuit of a Japanese casino last year.

Las Vegas Sands Corp said in May it was also pulling out of the race, citing high tax rates, unfavourable terms and the cost of building, which many have put at $10 billion.

MGM Resorts International, the lone remaining bidder for a casino in Osaka, said last week it will continue to pursue the project, despite delays that could last until next year.

The COVID-19 shut down much of the world’s casinos this year and Wynn’s resorts in Macau, Las Vegas and Boston are still experiencing sluggish demand.

Wynn furloughed a number of employees in Las Vegas last month because business was not coming back as quickly as it had hoped.

Osaka integrated resort project delayed further

The delay to Osaka’s request-for-proposal phase of its integrated resort plan has been deemed reasonable, according to the Japanese unit of casino operator MGM International.

GGR Asia reported in June that an MGM Resorts Japan spokesperson understands the position of the Japanese city.

The MGM brand is a favourite to be involved in any Osaka integrated resort, as large-scale casino complexes are known in that country.

It could be 2028 – rather than 2027 – before Osaka would be able to open such a venue, indicated on Thursday Osaka’s mayor, Ichiro Matsui.

Mr Matsui said that day that the RFP deadline would be put back by a further six months.

Accordingly, the date for appointing the private-sector partner for Osaka’s integrated resort tilt has been moved back to next year.

The MGM Resorts Japan representative said: “As mayor Matsui indicated, COVID-19 has affected business travel and the ability of members of our Las Vegas team to travel to and from Japan to meet and continue discussions with Osaka city.”

The spokesperson however stated that the latest delay involved “no change” in MGM Resorts’ RFC plans.

“We remain fully committed to our partnership with Orix and are actively working on our proposal in response to Osaka’s RFP to realise a world class integrated resort in Osaka during the timing Mayor Matsui indicated.”

In February, the Osaka authorities said the only qualified applicant for its RFP phase was a consortium consisting of MGM Resorts and Japanese financial group Orix Corp.

Despite being the sole qualified applicant, the consortium still needs to undergo all remaining stages of the Osaka RFC process until an official decision on the selected private-sector partner is announced by local authorities.

In late March, the RFP deadline had been postponed to July, compared to an earlier deadline of April.

Osaka city and prefecture are jointly leading the casino resort bid process.

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