Lawrence Ho to Bet on Japanese Casino Business

For a long time, pachinko was the only thing at least similar to gambling that Japanese players had access to. While it wasn't officially considered a form of gambling, pachinko was in a "gray zone" from a legal point of view: it was a game of chance played for material rewards instead of cash. But in recent years things started to look brighter for those passionate about gambling: the 2016 Integrated Resorts Act seemed to open up the way for casino gambling to finally arrive in the country. While this wouldn't've enabled locals to experience the best Canadian online games at Vegas Palms, it would've introduced land-based gambling.

Integrated Resort in Kansai

Image of a proposed Integrated Resort in Kansai

But this summer saw the arrival of bad news for international casino operators. An advisory panel appointed by the Japanese government proposed that the upcoming bill should limit the surface area of the casino floors inside these integrated resorts to 15,000 square meters (a little over 161,000 square feet), the same limit that casinos have in Singapore. This sounds like a dealbreaker for most international operators, who consider that such a limit would be too restrictive for the densely populated Japanese cities interested in hosting integrated resorts. By comparison, the Venetian Macau, owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has a gaming floor of 51,000 square meters (approximately 550,000 square feet).

The construction of integrated resorts could generate $10 billion in short-term income for Japan. When in operation, the same resorts could have generated estimated revenues of over $25 billion for the operators, a long-term revenue stream for the state, and a major influx of tourists into the resorts - which were already being referred to by some as the "Osaka Strip", showing that it could have rivaled the corresponding district in Las Vegas.

Lawrence Ho

Lawrence Ho Yau Lung, Chairman and CEO of Melco International (Image: Melco Crown Entertainment Limited)

But not all hope is lost, it seems. The son of Macau gaming legend Stanley Ho seems to be keen to widen his family's reach beyond China's special district - and he seems to have his eye on Japan's developing gambling market.

Lawrence Ho Yau Lung, Chairman and CEO of Melco International, has recognized the value of his father's empire but considers that he no longer has the motivation to expand. He doesn't fear the competition either - he considers Las Vegas giants to be "very Western", with an attitude that is stuck in the past. "Some of the things that the industry does are literally the same things they did in the 1960s," he said. "Sheldon Adelson thinks of Macau as a vending machine placed in a gas station."

The younger Ho's Melco International, an integrated resorts operator, apparently plans to expand beyond its familiar area and into the Japanese market. And he has relevant experience in expanding to foreign markets, too - in the past his company has opened such resorts in Russia and the Philippines.

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