Global Gaming Expo | Japan offers opportunities, challenges for integrated resorts

Peter Cohen, Jeremy Walker (center) and Ed Bowers

The opening of the Japanese market to Integrated Resorts (IR) will be a great opportunity for all people doing business in this field. Nevertheless, such a decision also creates numerous  challenges for both the potential investors and the Japanese government.

The panel of specialists invited to speak on the topic during the Global Gaming Expo (G2E Asia) taking place at The Venetian Macao hold similar views. During the talk that proposed to address the challenges and current status of IRs in Japan, Jeremy Walker, vice president for Marketing and International Development at Galaxy Entertainment Group said that “Japan offers a huge possibility for integrated resorts.”

Walker added that besides gaming there are many opportunities to be explored. “There are more Michelin starred restaurants in Tokyo than in Paris,” he said.

Walker added that such a market holds great possibilities starting from what he considers the “great advantage” facing regional competition: “The great infrastructure in terms of transportations, airports, ports, hotels…”

As for the biggest challenge, Walker suggested language barriers, not only in terms of the proficiency of the Japanese in speaking other languages but also “the need to adjust the information, signage, and websites” to other languages such as English, Korean and Mandarin among others, to accomodate the expected increase in foreign visitors.

Ed Bowers, senior vice president for global development of MGM Resorts International, agreed with the idea that the Japanese market would be appealing to investors. 

Although the appeal of Japan is still somewhat muted, due to the still-uncertain nature of Japanese gaming law and whether it will allow open access to locals, Bowers said that the emergence of IRs “can allow Japan to open the most remote locations giving the possibility to showcase the all country.”

Regarding the language challenge, Bowers noted there has been “great developments in that field,” recently. “The Olympics [Summer Games of 2020 to be held in Tokyo] will be a great milestone and a huge springboard for our industry.”

Another member of the discussion panel, Peter Cohen, Director of the Regulatory Affairs of The Agenda Group, added that Japan is “a different market” from the others that already feature gaming resorts, noting that choices from the Japanese government for a certain project will be dependent on how much “eye candy the project will be for those deciding,” highlighting that “the cultural component and the design would be decisive.”

Walker agreed with Cohen on this point noting that it is also a challenge to “create something unique that will feature the best of Japan and at the same time be also appealing to the western world.”

Regarding concerns that the introduction of casinos could generate a bigger problem in gaming addiction, Bowers remarked, “Japan needs to have a serious conversation about something that already exists. This will be very good at all levels,” he said.

Cohen complemented this by noting, “there are already many people with gaming addictions in Japan [before the introduction of casinos]. The introduction of Integrated Resorts might create a small increase in this aspect in the beginning but it will drop overtime (the same way that did in all other places).”

When questioned on the panelists expectations for the probable ratio between tourists and Japanese locals, Bowers said that a ratio of 70:30, (70 percent locals and 30 percent tourists) similar to what is recorded in Singapore, providing that the Japanese government decides to open to locals, though he noted that the percentage is not low, because “this 30 percent represents 100 percent foreign money injected in the market and in the local community.”

Walker avoided giving his estimate of the ratio, merely stating that it is “hard to tell as we don’t know the legislation yet,” but adding, “we do know that people [in Japan] like gaming and that there is certainly a demand for that in the local market. [It] all depends on the law.”

The panel also briefly addressed the figures of the Japan National Tourism Organization, which indicate that with the introduction of IRs, the government was aiming to increase the number of visitors from 25 million (2016) to 40 million (2020). The panelists all considered this figure as “too conservative,” and Walker commented, “Take the example of Macau that is a very small city [and is not far from that figure],” adding, “Japan is huge and is able to take a lot more than that.”

Organizers of G2E Asia, which kicked off yesterday morning and will continue until tomorrow, declared growth this year of over 25 percent of the exhibition area (to 28,000 sqm) and a total of 180 exhibitors, of which a third are first-timers.
In addition, over 70 companies are on site demonstrating new online gaming solutions, 45 percent of which are new to the exhibition.

The three-day event is co-organized by American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions.

Lui: ‘not the right time to review tax regime’

On the sidelines of the opening ceremony of G2E Asia, the vice chairman of Galaxy Entertainment Group, Francis Lui, said, “it is not the right time” to review Macau’s tax regime, noting that facing the increasing regional competition it is time “to discuss the future of the industry.” “We should be aware that there are jurisdictions with lower taxation that seek to attract Chinese players with great ability to travel,” Lui said, remarking that all local stakeholders need to discuss how to protect the local gaming industry’s competitiveness in the long run. Lui also argued that the Macau market is not threatened by the eventual rise of a Japanese gambling market, adding that instead Galaxy would be interested in investing in that market too.

Experts divided on role of local customers as market drivers

In a forum that addressed the role of local customers in the development of gaming markets in Asia, panelists expressed opposing ideas regarding the importance of such market players.

The forum, part of the Asia Market Forums from the Global Gaming Expo (G2E Asia), took place yesterday at The Venetian Macao.

During the talk, Ed Bowers, senior vice president for global development of MGM Resorts International, expressed that “local people are responsible for an important share of the market. No business [gaming concession] is feasible without access to local population,” he said, noting that such access can be achieved in a “free way or like in Singapore where locals need to pay a fee.”

Tim Shepherd, president for Business Development and Marketing from Silver Heritage Group , had a different view, claiming that Macau shows that local customers may not be so crucial. “As long as you have access to a market nearby, locals are not that important,” he said, remarking that the time of entry in a market is another important factor.

Fellow forum participant, Augustine Ha Ton Vinh, Chairman and CEO of Stellar Management Corp gave insight on the case of Vietnam, where locals are not allowed (yet) to enter casinos.

Vinh said that this primarily is the result of concerns from the Communist government of Vietnam that “doesn’t want to be seen as supporter of capitalism.”

The Vietnamese ban might be lifted in about three years’ time to allow local gamblers to play locally instead of taking their money to neighboring territories like Cambodia, Vinh added.

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