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Will Casino Gaming In Japan Be A Winning Bet For Las Vegas?

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PRNewsFoto/Bellagio Resort & Casino
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Bellagio Celebrates Japan with First Japanese Garden-Inspired Conservatory Display in 2015.

Las Vegas' gaming companies may soon have a new market to enter: Japan.

At the end of 2016, the Japanese government legalized casino gambling for the first time, despite public opposition.

Analysts predict Japan could rake in an additional $18 billion a year in increased tourism and gaming revenues once the casinos open, and Las Vegas' companies want a piece of the action.

Martin Williams is the Asia Editor for Gambling Compliance. He said MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands are some of the big Las Vegas companies trying to capture the initial gaming licenses the country is expected to release. 

"The three main Vegas companies being very aggressive in their courting of the Japanese market by no means are the only American companies interested," Williams said. "For example, Hard Rock, Caesars [and] Penn National have all expressed interest in the market with various degrees of engagement."

Williams said he would be surprised if one of those three big companies didn't get a license when they're first handed out next year or the year after. He said there are really only a small number of gaming companies around the world, including those in Las Vegas, that would have the ability to built the large, multi-billion dollar resorts that Japan is looking for.

Williams said the country is looking to boost tourism by allowing gaming.

"I think there was a growing acceptance that this was a more acceptable mode for tourism revenue," he said.

Japan already allows several forms of gambling. One of the most popular is pachinko, which is a cross between the game Plinko from "The Price is Right" and a pinball machine. However, Williams said in Japan it is not categorized as 'gaming,' but instead is considered 'entertainment.'

He also doesn't believe casino gaming will interfere with pachinko parlors because the target audience is vastly different.

"The casinos in Japan would be asking for a much higher spend per visitor than a pachinko parlor would be receiving," he said.

He also doesn't think gaming in Japan would take much of a bite out of gaming in Macau, because policies instituted by the Chinese government have already had a chilling effect on that market, dwarfing anything Japan would take away. The Japanese market would be more appealing to people living in Northern China because it is much closer to them than Macau as well. 

 

Martin Williams, Asia editor, Gambling Compliance

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)