The long and winding road to legal gambling in Japan caused Las Vegas Sands (LVS) to drop out of the license bidding process. Now Yokohama wants Sands back.
Japan floated the idea of legal casinos and integrated resorts (IR) back in 2016. Committees met, prefectures pontificated, and the lengthy bureaucratic casino license bidding began.
Years later, Japan’s casino dreams seem more like a never-ending race of turtles trying to push past all the red tape. Several prefectures balked at the idea of casinos, then recanted. Then balked again.
Next, the bidding wars opened, and many major casino operators were in the race for the first three IR casino licenses in Japan. Wynn Resorts and LVS were in the bidding for the Yokohama license, and Wynn set up offices there.
After the Japanese IR race was marred by scandal, several top Japanese officials were implicated in bribery allegations. After the legal delays, Wynn pulled stakes and closed its Yokohama offices, and LVS dropped out of the license race as well. Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson said his company withdrew because Japan’s delay “has made our goals there unreachable.”
Time to Choose
The IR Operator Selection Committee of Yokohama said the latest bid license meeting would begin on November 30. The committee will review request for concept (RFC) proposals from any remaining casino contenders. They will also ensure complete transparency in the licensing process.
According to local media sources in Japan, the committee will also reach out to previously interested IR casino firms. Sands is considered the global leader in the IR industry. In addition to its fine stable of casinos in Las Vegas and Macau, its iconic Marina Bay Sands IR in Singapore set the gold standard for resorts.
Japanese media sources also reported that 71% of Japanese voters wanted the government to reconsider IR licenses altogether. But the Yokohama government can still proceed without public approval.
As Japan’s second largest city, Yokohama wants to capitalize on the huge amount of money and jobs an IR casino would bring. After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned due to health reasons, Yoshihide Suga took up his predecessor’s mission to license IR casinos in Japan.
Sands might be leaving Las Vegas to focus on Asia, as it considers selling off its casino assets there. This may have been the signal for Japan to dangle the casino bait in front of LVS once again. It remains to be seen if the big fish will bite.
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