Casino operators knocking on Japan's door

TOKYO - Fish-fin shaped structures, fine dining and entertainment galore: that's what some of the world's biggest casino operators are offering punters in Japan if they are allowed into one of the last great untapped gaming markets.

MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands Corp and Wynn Resorts Ltd outlined on Wednesday their visions for casinos in Japan, a market which experts say could potentially become the world's second biggest gaming market, worth $15 billion a year.

The pitches, made a gaming conference in Tokyo, follow preparations by lawmakers to submit to parliament, in a session due to start next month, an initial bill that would allow casinos to be set up in Japan, likely in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

If approved, the initial bill will be followed by more detailed legislation within two years.

Japan is widely viewed as one of the last great untapped markets due to its wealthy population and proximity to China. Union Gaming, a US-based investment bank which organised the conference, predicted Japanese gaming revenues could top $15 billion a year, making it the second-largest market in the world after Macau.

George Tanasijevich, president of Marina Bay Sands, displayed several potential casino designs, including a building featuring fin-shaped towers and another centred on an oval structure with a carved out centre he called "The Pearl".

Tanasijevich said Tokyo and Osaka were prime locations for an integrated casino-resort complex similar to the company's profitable Singapore venture.

"We are interested in both locations. They are ideal settings for what we do," Tanasijevich said. "The Olympics will spur infrastructure investment. That will help integrated resorts."

Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Resorts International, highlighted his company's track record in attracting visitors to its resorts with non-gaming attractions such as fine restaurants, title fights and shows like Cirque du Soleil.

"We know how to do entertainment," he said, adding MGM would likely seek a Japanese partner for the project.

Gamal Aziz, president of Wynn Resorts Development, offered few details but promised to build an "iconic building that would last for many generations to come".