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US casino operators double down on Japan plans

Sands eyes $10bn Yokohama resort while MGM says Osaka or bust

A roulette wheel at a Japanese casino school. Gambling resorts are set to open in the country in the 2020s.    © Reuters

OSAKA -- American casino operators are staking out promising sites in Japan, which will begin allowing gambling resorts during the next decade, in a bid to enter an entirely new market of bettors.

U.S.-based Las Vegas Sands has its eye on Yokohama, near Tokyo, in light of the capital's population, tourism and large pool of skilled workers. The company reaffirmed Thursday plans to build a casino resort in the nation's second largest city, possibly spending around $10 billion on the complex, which will include facilities for meetings and exhibitions.

Sands Managing Director George Tanasijevich, who is also CEO of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, told reporters at an exhibition in the western city of Osaka that Yokohama is "the ideal location in Japan."

Yamashita Pier, where the casino would be built, is near the city center, and the 47-hectare site is large enough for an integrated resort, Tanasijevich said.

In August, the company ditched plans to launch its Japan operations in Osaka, targeting Tokyo and Yokohama instead.

"We're focused on Yokohama," Tanasijevich said. "The opportunity is real. The mayor is very positive."

He emphasized Sands' focus on Yokohama, saying a specialized team will put together a concept proposal, deepen its understanding of the area and seek support from residents.

"I think we have a track record, on a global basis," Tanasijevich said.

Also on Thursday, U.S. casino operator MGM Resorts International, which plans to build an integrated resort in Osaka in partnership with Japanese leasing company Orix, took its "Osaka First" policy to a deeper level.

Ed Bowers, chief executive of MGM Resorts Japan, said the operator's strategy in the Asian country is "Osaka only." He spoke during the first joint news conference by MGM and Orix since the tie-up was announced in March. The American company has said it was courted by other cities including Yokohama.

"The cooperative relationships we've built, mainly with Kansai-based companies, are one of our strengths," said Toyonori Takahashi, Orix's representative for the Kansai region surrounding Osaka.

The Japanese government will set up an oversight body in January to formulate regulations for casinos. Local governments interested in hosting a resort are expected to select operators by early 2021. The central government will select the winners and award the first three casino operating licenses by 2022.

Additional reporting by Natsuko Katsuki

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