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Is MGM Resorts Set to Open Its First Casino in Japan?

Japanese Yen DiceDespite the lengthy bureaucratic processes that have followed Japan’s legalisation of casinos back in 2018, it appears as though the first major global brand is finally ready to break soil on their first property in the country.

MGM Resorts, alongside their Japanese partner firm Orix, have submitted formal plans to build a ¥1 trillion – that’s £6.6 billion – casino property in Osaka, the nation’s second city.

The blueprints for the resort will include mammoth gaming facilities, as well as on site hotels, restaurants and live entertainment venues.

Of course, submission is only part of the process in Japan, which has been slow to green light any new casino resorts – partly due to the global crisis, but also because of the layers of red tape that exist in signing off such a development.

When the Japanese government legalised casinos back in 2018, a number of major brands signalled their intent to move into the jurisdiction – MGM chief among them.

However, as the process of acceptance rumbled on and on, a number of firms withdrew their applications – including the Las Vegas Sands Group last year. That left MGM as the sole operator still actively chasing approval.

Their persistence may yet be rewarded, however there could be a long wait before building work can get started. The Japanese government is yet to agree on which three destinations it plans to approve casino resorts for, although Osaka – a sizable city but one not overly saturated with tourists as yet – seems a likely pick. The Yumeshima district in Osaka Bay has been earmarked as a possible location. The region’s governor, Hirofumi Yoshimura, is keen to move the project on.

The application is now being handled by the Osaka prefecture, and if they approve the plans they will be forwarded on to the national government, who is expected to make their decision on which cities – and which operators – will be handed licences to operate in the second quarter of 2022.

If the proposals are green lit, it is expected that MGM’s first Japanese casino would open its doors for the first time in the second half of the decade.

Are Casinos Legal in Japan?

Osaka Port at Night

The legal infrastructure regarding gambling in Japan is pretty complex and difficult to understand, although a 2016 rule-change – finally introduced two years later – did at least add some transparency.

The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, formally legalised casino gaming in the country, regarding it as a key part of his plan to boost tourism in Japan and thus power economic growth.

The move wasn’t met with overwhelming positivity amongst the Japanese people, however Abe and his parliament have been determined to push on with the plans in a bid to stop the Japanese people heading to nearby Macau and Singapore to get their casino fix, while welcoming more overseas travellers into the bargain.