Global casino leaders can still rediscover Japan

Japan Fuji

Japanese authorities have made creating integrated resorts a mountainous task. Photo credit: JNTO

Hopes of creating the next big thing in Asian gaming skyrocketed as Japan began moving toward casino legalization in 2013. That enthusiasm has dissipated over these past eight years for a variety of reasons, and the smart money now bets building integrated resorts in Japan for billions of dollars won’t pay off.

I’ve been part of the negative wave that’s swept the Japan casino contest, due to culminate in the national government licensing up to three IRs next year. I’ve suggested that Japan stop the IR process to rewrite the rules and that authorities only award one IR license among the three current contenders, hoping for more attractive candidates to emerge later.

Then in late September, Caesars Entertainment, the largest US casino operator, rejoined the Japan IR race as the proposed casino operator for Wakayama prefecture’s IR bid. That’s the best news for Japan’s IR supporters in years. Caesars created the themed IR concept with Caesars Palace 55 years ago, and Harrah’s, which bought Caesars in 2004 before Eldorado Resorts bought the combined company last year, invented the modern casino customer rewards program.

Caesars’ return to Japan – it dropped out the bidding at the time of the Eldorado purchase – is a reminder that Japan remains the world’s third largest economy, and it boasted rapidly growing international visitor arrivals pre-Covid. It’s also a reminder that defying conventional wisdom about Macau remade the global casino business two decades ago. Japan could have similar impact, despite what the smart money says.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes, a columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.