Japan casino bill passage seen late 2016 at earliest

Japan’s long-delayed legislation legalizing casinos is unlikely to be passed until the second half of 2016 at the very earliest, making it impossible for the first IRs to open in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, according to Japan experts at the Macau Gaming Show.

If it does happen next year, the parliament is unlikely to discuss the legislation until its extraordinary session, which runs from Sept. to Dec., said Mikio Tanji, chairman of Gaming Capital Management.

Building out from that timetable, he said it’s unlikely that any site will be chosen for an IR zone before 2019 in a best-case scenario, adding there are still several outstanding political issues that could stand in the way of passage of the bill.

Tanji, who has advised Diet members on IR development in Japan, said there are four locations that are the current front runners for potential casino-resort sites.

Yokohama, near Tokyo is seen as the most promising, with the city of Osaka also a strong contender. Hokkaido, which is popular with western tourists and known for its ski resorts is another, while there is a possibility that Nagasaki may ask to add a casino to its Huis Ten Bosch resort. The theme park based in Sasebo aims to be a replica of the Netherlands, with copies of old Dutch buildings. But Tanji said it was unclear whether the government would permit a casino to be added on.

Kasuaki Sasaki, assistant professor at Nihon University College of Economics’ Gaming Academy, said a recent study on the likely impact of an IR in Yokohama found that it would give a 414.4 billion yen ($3.36 billion) boost to the local economy, with a direct impact of 256.16 billion yen. It would also be likely to create more than 41,000 jobs.

Tanji said there was still a lot of uncertainty about the future shape of Japan’s gaming bill, ranging from issues such as whether foreigners will be allowed to have 100 percent ownership and the role of junkets. Macau-style junkets are unlikely to be approved in Japan, he added.

Japan is seen as potentially the most promising market in Asia after Macau, though estimates of its potential worth have varied widely depending on how many resorts are allowed in the initial phase and where.

Fitch Ratings has estimated that two integrated resorts in Tokyo and Osaka could generate roughly $7 billion in gross gaming revenues.