Japan gambles on first casino to boost tourism

Japan is the latest Asian nation to relax gambling regulations in an attempt to attract tourism, with its first casino being built in Osaka

Japan has announced plans to roll the dice on the gaming industry and open the country’s first casino.

Scheduled to open in 2029 in Osaka, the US$8 billion casino complex will be located on a reclaimed island (Yumeshima) that is also due to host the World Expo 2025.

Gaming giant MGM Resorts International – behind such iconic casinos as the Bellagio and Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas – will take a 40% stake in the company behind the project, with local partner Orix Group also taking 40%. The remaining 20% will be shared by around 20 other companies.

The resort will include hotels, a shopping mall, and conference centre – like so many others around the world, and indeed Asia Pacific.

Most famous of these is Macau, rightly referred to as the Las Vegas of Asia. This Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China is home to the world’s biggest casino – The Venetian Macau – and some of the biggest names in the industry, including MGM and Wynn.

Marina Bay Sands, a Singapore skyline icon

Singapore's Integrated Resorts prove a model for new casinos in region

Singapore has two Integrated Resorts (IRs) which opened in 2010 to boost tourism amid much hand-wringing from the conservative government. Much was made at the time of the fact they were technically built offshore (on islands) and that access for Singaporeans would be strictly regulated. Marina Bay Sands, in particular, has now become an iconic feature of the skyline. Resorts World Sentosa, operated by Genting, also includes a theme park and aquarium – making the complex more palatable and family-friendly. 

The Philippines has several casinos, including the City of Dreams Manila, as does South Korea. Cambodia and Vietnam have also rolled the dice.

With Japan having a strong economy and high incomes, it is sure to aim for a strong domestic market rather than focus on attracting overseas gamblers. That said, PM Fumio Kishida said that he expects the casino to attract tourists, while also creating a legacy for the Expo site. The aim is to attract 6 million international visitors to the casino per year, and 14 million domestic.

The government passed a law in 2018 to allow IRs to operate but the pandemic put plans on hold and the likes of Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment Corp and Las Vegas Sands all withdrew applications by the 2022 deadline.

One other casino development is under consideration in Japan, in Nagasaki.

Could the UAE get first casino in Ras Al Khaimah?

Australia has more than 20 large-scale casinos, with Crown Resorts being the largest operator of integrated resorts including Crown Melbourne, Crown Sydney, and Crown Perth. South Africa also has around 38 casinos.

However, one of the most eye-catching developments announced recently is the Wynn Resort Ras Al Khaimah. One of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, the casino is being built on the manmade Al Marjan Island, which is about an hour’s drive north of Dubai. 

Due to open in 2027, the 1,000-room property is creating quite a stir in the country famed for its pioneering and bold hospitality industry, and Ras Al Khaimah is in the process of writing gambling laws based on the Singapore model and US experience.

Wynn would however not be the first gaming giant to land on UAE soil. There is a Caesars Palace Dubai, built on the manmade Bluewaters Island, overlooking Dubai Marina. This luxurious property has 12 F&B outlets and five swimming pools but, crucially, no casino. Watch this space.


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