Japan enacts casino bill, MGM to step up prep work

Japan has finally passed a bill setting the framework for legal casinos in what is expected to become Asia’s second-biggest gaming market after Macau.

After a long day of political machinations, and a very short debate in the plenary session, the House of Representatives enacted the Casino Bill shortly before 1:30 am on December 15.

Japan’s market was recently estimated at about $20 billion by analysts at Morgan Stanley, while earlier estimates by CLSA forecast gross gaming revenue could reach $40 billion, depending on the number, size and location of IRs that are permitted.

Most of the world’s casino majors have been eyeing the market’s potential, pledging to spend billions of dollars for the right to build a resort there. MGM Resorts was one of the first operators to react to the news, offering its congratulations to the Diet on passing the legislation.

“After years of study in the region, we believe the opportunity exists to drive significant growth in sustainable travel and tourism — particularly from international segments — along with the creation of thousands of jobs and long-term economic benefit,” it said in a statement.

MGM has a full-time development team in Tokyo pursuing discussions. It said the announcement “allows us to advance our relationships with key stakeholders and together create a coalition of Japanese business partners who will collectively define a vision for a uniquely Japanese world-class integrated resort.

Passage of the bill did not come without drama. Since it was the final day of Diet session, the final recourse left to the opposition parties was to try to tie up business in the Diet all day and hopefully run out the clock. As the first step, the four opposition parties submitted a “no confidence” motion against Chuichi Date, the Speaker of the House of Councillors. (When a “no confidence” motion is submitted, it must be debated and voted upon before other Diet business can resume.) This motion was, of course, handily defeated in the plenary session, but it did its job of eating up some hours of time.

The four opposition parties also agreed to submit a “no confidence” motion against the Abe Cabinet once the bill reached the House of Representatives.

The ruling party understood, the nature of the delay tactics that the opposition was engaged in, and so they played their final card, which was effectively “checkmate.” The Liberal Democratic Party decided that today would not, in fact, be the end of the Diet session, but instead that the session would be extended three more days through Saturday the 17th.

The revised Casino Bill was passed in the House of Councillors in the early evening with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and Ishin. All of the other opposition parties voted against. The ruling coalition Komeito Party was split with 18 in favor and 7 against. Notably, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi was among the seven who voted against the Casino Bill.

The “no confidence” motion against the Abe Cabinet was voted down just before 1 am on December 15, removing the final hurdle to passage.