Imagine the Las Vegas Strip without Macau gaming profits propping it up in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, for instance. The buildings would still be there; whether they’d still be owned by the same companies is quite another question.
If you’re an American gaming company looking at the future, you have to think the home country is good for some more surprises ahead. The U.S. casino industry has made a wonderful living off of older Americans for decades now, and no small part of that has been the security offered by government programs such as Social Security and Medicare, not to mention defined-benefit pensions which are rapidly disappearing. Amid all the conjecture surrounding the whiplash-like transition from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, one bit of news didn’t receive the full attention it deserved: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects the federal deficit will add $10 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, mostly due to an aging population and a resulting strain on the above mentioned entitlements. How President Trump squares that with his campaign promises to find $1 trillion for new infrastructure, grow defense spending, cut taxes and not lay a finger on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be interesting to watch. How older Americans respond to the possibility—or as seems likely the reality—of their retirement goalposts being moved will be another story.
If you’re a U.S. operator, emerging markets overseas have already proven their worth as a hedge against low-growth domestic markets, hence the excitement about Japan, which is profiled in this month’s issue, as reported by our friends at Inside Asian Gaming. With thanks, here is a partial look at their take on the players:
Las Vegas Sands: Founder Sheldon Adelson has declared LVS would spend $10 billion on a Japanese integrated resort. Marina Bay Sands President and CEO George Tanasijevich spearheaded LVS’s successful Singapore coupling and, as the longtime face of LVS Japan efforts, has built relationships with potential local partners. Perhaps only a requirement for Japanese majority IR ownership would derail LVS.
Genting Singapore: “LVS and Genting Singapore are Japan frontrunners by a mile,” said one industry executive. “What they did in Singapore is exactly what Japan wants.” Pulling out of Resorts World Jeju removes a distraction, and Resorts World Las Vegas should be substantially completed before any Japan construction would start. A cashed-up local partner would be a perfect fit.
Wynn Resorts: Wynn has the premium cachet Japan craves and founder Steve Wynn has laid groundwork there as long as anyone. But Wynn Resorts’ ousting of former vice chairman, pachinko mogul Kazuo Okada, likely impacts any bid. “It’s not that people love Okada,” a source declared, “they don’t like how Wynn treated him.”
MGM Resorts International: “MGM believes they’ve got Osaka locked up,” a top Western executive in Asia said. A Japanese source also links the two. Chairman and CEO James Murren has tried to overcome questions about MGM’s financial wherewithal by promising to spend up to $10 billion through a REIT (real estate investment trust) structure. After opening acclaimed National Harbor outside Washington D.C., the company’s hopes ride on MGM Cotai.
Galaxy Entertainment: The best chance among Macau-based operators but still a longshot. A Japanese source insists authorities don’t want companies closely associated with China. Galaxy’s successful Macau relationship with Hotel Okura plus its minority stake in Monte Carlo’s casino are aces in the hole.
Melco Crown: The October arrest of Crown employees in mainland China for illegal gambling promotion likely sinks Japan chances for the partnership and Crown individually. Lawrence Ho’s Melco International partnership with Hard Rock on a Cyprus IR could prove its way forward in Japan.
Paradise Group: Paradise City, a $1 billion IR developed with Japan’s Sega Sammy, puts South Korea’s top foreigner casino operator in the Japan conversation.
Bloomberry: Chairman and CEO Enrique Razon’s main business, International Container Terminal Services, ran port facilities in Okinawa for a decade to 2015. Thomas Arasi, president and COO of Bloomberry’s Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila, gave a presentation in Japanese at a 2014 Tokyo IR conference that still has people talking. One witness insists Bloomberry is a contender for both Okinawa and Hokkaido.