SINGAPORE - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Singapore's two integrated resorts yesterday amid reports that his country may be legalising casino gambling.
Mr Abe, here for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue for top defence officials, spent yesterday afternoon touring Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), owned by casino operators Las Vegas Sands (LVS) and Genting Singapore respectively.
In response to queries, MBS chief executive officer and president George Tanasijevich said: "It was an honour for us to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his visit to Singapore today.
"We appreciate the opportunity to explain to him the positive contribution MBS has made to Singapore's economy, labour market and tourism industry, as well as the impact that a MICE-focused integrated resort could have on Japan," he said.
Japan, home to 128 million people and the world's third-largest economy, is widely seen as an untapped prize market for casino operators due to its affluent population and proximity to wealthy Asian gamblers in the region.
Tokyo itself has a highly affluent 13.2 million population.
Casinos are currently banned in Japan, but betting on horse, boat and bicycle races is allowed.
The country is projected to become the third-largest gambling destination after Macau and the United States, with annual revenue of more than US$40 billion (S$50 billion), if the Japanese government gives the go-ahead to legalise gambling.
Lawmakers supporting the casino Bill hope to see initial draft legislation later this year, with the first resort opening by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games.
International casino operators such as LVS, Melco Crown Entertainment and MGM Resorts International have expressed interest in investing in Japanese casinos.
LVS' chief executive Sheldon Adelson had said he would spend US$10 billion to develop a casino resort.
Others have announced investment of around US$5 billion for a casino in Tokyo or Osaka.
Genting Singapore has set up eight subsidiaries in Japan for investment holding, leisure and related businesses.
Mr Adelson had also said earlier this week at an investor conference in New York that he hopes that Mr Abe's visit to his Singapore casino will speed up the liberalisation of casinos in Japan.
Singapore's integrated resort model, which combines casinos with dining, entertainment and business, is a model Japan would prefer, lawmakers have said.
MBS has helped to boost convention business here while RWS, which houses Universal Studios and the SEA Aquarium, has been attracting record numbers of tourists.
This article was first published on May 31, 2014.
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