Barrière Aims to Add European Style to Japan IR Market

Groupe Barrière is a top-level IR operator in France and Switzerland, and has a presence in Africa as well, but they are now reaching much further afield into the anticipated Japanese IR market.

In an exclusive interview with Asia Gaming Brief, Jonathan Strock, Barrière’s director of casino development, explained that it is precisely the expectation of a highly-regulated business environment that appeals to his company: “Regulations can be tough, which is what we like… We like that sort of barrier to entry where you can only have various companies coming into the market,” he explains.

Barrière’s development team began visiting Japan from 2014 and has returned ever since on roughly a monthly basis. “We’ve been from Kushiro in the north of Hokkaido and the most southerly place would be Naha in Okinawa, and we’ve been to most places in between at one point or another,” Strock notes.

Barrière has already discounted the possibility of bidding for one of the major urban locations like Osaka or Yokohama: “We’ll be concentrating all of our efforts on the regional markets.” They have already been involved in the Tomakomai and Nagasaki RFI processes, and Strock himself spoke last week at an IR-related public event in Wakayama.

An unusual suggestion is that his company really isn’t worried about the Japanese government possibly imposing strict size limitations on casino floors. For the regional, European-style IR that Barrière has in mind, that’s not really a major obstacle. “We are more into driving people into restaurants, getting them to eat well, to enjoy their time with sporting activities, to get outdoors, to do a little horse riding, to play a little golf,” he explains.

In the European model, as Strock describes it, the casino experience is not necessarily at the center of the enterprise, as it would be for the average Macau or Las Vegas operator.

Strock feels that Japan’s problem gambling worries also play into an established strength of Barrière, which has robust anti-addiction programs including links to treatment facilities in its home markets of France and Switzerland. He notes, “Every time we’ve had a meeting in a town hall, almost always the first question has been gambling addiction. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to turn our population into addicts?” He feels that his company can effectively answer these persistent concerns.

The only point about the proposed Japanese regulations that does make his team uneasy is the potential requirement that all Japan residents must present a MyNumber card, which is an identification system that has so far proven highly unpopular. He anticipates that the Japanese regulators will likely ease this measure and allow other forms of photo identification.

Barrière has not yet set up a local office in Japan, but rather continues their monthly visits. However, once the IR Implementation Bill is actually passed into law, Strock says that they will open their Japan office very quickly thereafter, perhaps within a month or so.