Feb. 13 - Japan's looking at legalizing casinos to boost growth, potentially creating the world's biggest integrated resort market. Kei Okamura reports.
EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4:3 MATERIAL. It's been called the "holy grail" of gaming markets. Japan! It's got all the right ingredients to become the next hot casino destination. The Japanese love gaming. Pachinko, a vertical pinball slot machine, is a popular past-time with over twelve thousand halls sprawled across the nation. Add that to the ever increasing number of Chinese visitors to Japan and you've got a party of high-rollers. Despite the global economic gloom, casino markets like Macau have continued to boom. And since 2010, Singapore's joined the table. Its integrated casino resort raked in a whopping 6 billion dollars in gaming revenue last year. And that's coming from an economy one-tenth the size of Japan. So it's no wonder casino moguls like Melco's CEO Lawrence Ho are looking to bet big on Japan. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MELCO CEO, LAWRENCE HO, SAYING: "Beyond Macau, we've always looked at bigger gaming jurisdictions like Japan and Taiwan. I think those countries are looking at opening up integrated resorts similar to the success of Singapore." But there's a catch. Casinos are illegal in Japan. For years, the government has toyed with the idea of changing the law but the revolving door of Prime Ministers slowed the process. But things may be about to change. In a rare show of unity, the country's biggest political parties have come together to introduce one of the first related bills to parliament. Issei Koga who heads the bipartisan panel on this issue says Japan needs to act fast before it's overtaken by rival South Korea. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) PARLIAMENTARY LEAGUE TO PROMOTE INTEGRATED RESORTS CHAIRMAN, ISSEI KOGA, SAYING: "We can't continue to delay this theme. We have competitors. So we want to submit this bill to the current parliament session regardless of whether this session is extended or not. And if we can deliberate and pass it, that'll be even better." (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS REPORTER, KEI OKAMURA, SAYING: "This is what a casino in Japan could look like. Well just about, since this is a mock casino purely for entertainment purposes. No gambling. But the idea is quite similar. This place sits in the Venus Fort shopping complex in Tokyo Bay, while the real casino would also be part of an integrated resort with shops, hotels and plenty of non-gaming facilities. The model worked wonders in Singapore. And it could be a winning bet here in Japan as well." CLSA predicts Japan's integrated resort market could top Singapore with over ten billion dollars in gaming revenue, making it the biggest IR market in the world. The brokerage's analyst Aaron Fischer says foreign casino operators are salivating at the opportunity. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CLSA ANALYST, AARON FISCHER, SAYING: "I think the most likely candidate would initially be Las Vegas Sands, Genting Singapore, both of which have got very successful properties in Singapore and built fantastic integrated resorts, which we think is the model that Japan would want to adopt over time." The odds are still against casinos in Japan. But one thing's for sure. The house will always win once Japan opens its doors to casinos. Kei Okamura, Reuters.