Japan Another Example of Hurry-and-Wait Expansion

Nothing, it seems, is ever easy when it comes to the expansion of gaming these days. You’d think it would get easier as each new jurisdiction considers it. After all, before the riverboat casino era began in the early 1990s, only Nevada and New Jersey offered legal commercial gambling in the U.S. Since then, some form of gambling is allowed in every state except Utah and Hawaii.

So with the roadmap clearly laid out by previous states, why do new or considering jurisdictions insist on reinventing the wheel and starting from scratch rather than copying existing best practices? Certainly individual states and countries have unique circumstances to consider when exploring gaming expansion or legalizations. Even so, it’s been tough to watch Massachusetts currently try to roll out gaming. Or see a state like New Hampshire debate the legalization of gaming year after year but always come up short. Same with Kentucky. And don’t get me started on Illinois and its never-ending discussion about various forms of expansion.

And then there’s Japan. Having just returned from attending the Japan Gaming Congress in Tokyo en route to G2E Asia in Macau, I remain struck by the interesting timing of the conference. Japan Gaming Congress organizer Clarion Events clearly picked the May 14-16 dates to try to attract those who had already planned to attend G2E Asia on May 20-22. The strategy worked, as nearly 400 people were in attendance to discuss the potential impact of gambling being legalized in Japan.

There was no doubt at the conference that the impact of gaming in Japan would be huge in terms of gross gaming revenue. Japan features the world’s third- or fourth-largest economy, depending on how it’s being measured, and a population of nearly 130 million. Even with just a handful of integrated resorts, projections for legal gaming in Japan place it behind only Macau for gaming revenue dominance.

And so at the Japan Gaming Congress, everyone was gathered to celebrate… nothing. As top executives from the leading operators and supplies chatted about the prospects, those responsible for enacting legislation to legalize gambling were gathered elsewhere in Tokyo to discuss… nothing related to gambling. The Diet is Japan’s version of the Congress in the U.S., and unlike the U.S. Congress, the Diet is busy and working hard on so many pending issues that gaming has not been a priority.

The timing of the Japan Gaming Congress probably didn’t help the situation. If you’re a politician in Japan and all of these gaming executives were across town talking about how casinos were a done deal, I suspect your natural reaction would be to prove those executives wrong. And that is what has happened. At press time in early June, the Diet had basically run out of time for this particular session and would likely not be able to consider gaming again until later in the year.

With Japan stalled out, off we went to Macau, where gaming revenues continue to set records month after month, with more upside ahead. New resorts, included Wynn Palace and Las Vegas Sands’ The Parisian, are coming out of the ground in the Cotai area of Macau. During her keynote address at G2E Asia, Pansy Ho—who lists 22 different titles on her business card but is mostly known as Stanley Ho’s most powerful daughter—touted the bridge under construction between Hong Kong and Macau as the next driver of Macau’s fortunes. There’s also a light-rail system under construction that will improve how people move around within Macau.

The development in Cotai and throughout Macau has made this Chinese special administrative region truly a modern marvel. Building these monster resorts on reclaimed land from the South China Sea and then opening up the border gates from mainland China have created a gaming epicenter that continues to amaze those of us who visit in 12-month increments for the annual G2E Asia trade show and conference at The Venetian.

G2E Asia once again attracted gaming power brokers drawn to the world’s largest market by revenue. The exhibit floor space and attendee totals were up substantially over last year. Show co-owners Reed Exhibitions and the American Gaming Association (AGA) continue to do a great job making this show unique among a very crowded trade show calendar.

The month of May included trade shows or conferences in Tokyo, Macau, Biloxi, San Diego, Panama City and Atlantic City. That’s called overkill where I come from. Thankfully, the annual NIGA Indian Gaming trade show will move back to its previously established dates next year, set for March 30-April 2 and again located in San Diego. As for this year’s NIGA show, kudos to NIGA officials and their new show management company Urban Expositions for a commitment to listen to suppliers and improve the event for the benefit of all.

It’s clear that we as an industry have figured out how to do trade shows. Now if we could only organize our expansion efforts as efficiently.

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