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Will Australia’s Casinos Expand into Japan?

Is Japan going to be the next big market for casino resorts? James Packer has been making noises about the need for Australia’s casino resorts to be the first to benefit from the potential opening of the Japanese market. Anyone who follows the horse racing (and who doesn’t when the Melbourne Cup is on?) will know that there is real interest in the horses in Japan, suggesting that it’s a nation that loves a gamble every now and then.

They even have their own equivalent of our love-affair with the pokies: their version is machines called pachinko, a cross between a pinball machine and the pokies that we know and love (between you and me, they look amazing!).

When we say they love the pachinko, we mean that they play them with the same enthusiasm that we show for the best and newest pokies like The Dark Knight Rises, and the biggest-jackpot Online Pokies progressive like Mega Moolah. That is to say, lots!

But gambling is tightly controlled in Japan, with the only legal options being the horses and the pachinko (and even then you can’t gamble directly on the pachinko, but instead win a ‘prize’ that’s exchanged for cash on a nearby licensed site...). That could all be about to change with a bill that goes before the Japanese parliament this year.

Here’s James Packer’s view: ‘If Japan comes on it will be the second-biggest gaming market in the world. It has 100 million people who are all mad gamblers but they are all doing it through horse racing and pachinko. Japan is looking at the Singapore story. Done wrong, gambling can be parasitic. But done right (through integrated resorts) it can be hugely additive. With integrated resorts done well, the good outweighs the bad. Singapore is proof of that. Japan is two to three years before it all gets serious, which is perfect for us because we will have Macau Studio City open and the Philippines open. Crown Perth will be finished and Crown Sydney should be well under way, approvals pending. It is just going through the political process at the moment in Japan.’

He’s an ambitious man, of course, but there is some sense in what he’s saying. The integrated resorts in Singapore have been a pretty much unqualified success, and other governments must be thinking about getting in on the action.

And he’s right about something else: there are a lot of excellent casino resorts here in Australia. We tend to focus more on them than on overseas opportunities, but if Packer’s intention is to create flagship integrated casino resorts in Australia to prove to the rest of the world that the product works – that we can get behind...

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