Adelson bids for spot in Japanese market

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Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of the world's largest gambling company by market value - Las Vegas Sands - has set his sights, and his cash, eastward to one of the only great untapped gaming markets left.

At a media briefing in Tokyo last month, the billionaire gambling mogul vowed to "spend whatever it takes" to secure one of the few licences that will allow him to operate in what has been predicted to become Asia's second largest casino market - Japan.

While betting on horse, boat and bicycle races is allowed in Japan, casinos are still banned despite a decade of deliberation. But with worsening government debt, nearby success in Macau, China and Singapore and a new emphasis on tourism culminating in Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics, it seems there are ever more incentives to legalise.

Adelson offers one more: "Would I spend $10bn? Yes." Although he notes he would prefer to keep it at $7bn. But Sands can "spend $10bn without borrowing money" he added, while competitors "can't".

The lucrative opportunity has also captured the attention of fellow operators MGM Resorts International, Ceasars Entertainment Corp, Melco and Wynn Resorts Ltd.

Both US and Asian operators are already in the process of setting up large scale integrated resorts across the continent in the hope of earning similar revenues to those generated in Singapore and Macau.

Sands are already the largest foreign operators in Macau, a special administrative region of China and the only place in the country where casinos are allowed. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, Sands’ casinos in Macau and Singapore together accounted for 91% of the company's adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation last year.

While Sands’ success could prove an advantage, Reuters report that Adelson's "aggressive, go it alone strategy" is "worrying lawmakers and business men who want domestic firms to play a significant role" in future casino businesses.

While Adelson seems reluctant, others have stated they are willing to work with domestic partners.

David Green, head of Macau-based Newpage Consulting, which focuses on the gaming industry, told Reuters that working with domestic stakeholders will be a major challenge and a "real learning experience" for foreign operators looking at Japan.

With lawmakers taking steps towards legalisation and further developments expected in the spring, the competition for a slice of what could become one of the most profitable casino markets is sure to get even fiercer.

Emma Rumney
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