With regulation of what industry analysts say could become the second biggest casino market in the world expected to be ironed out in law by December, Hard Rock Cafe International, Inc. is eyeing a 60 percent stake in a casino resort in Japan.
James Allen, chairman of the Orlando, Florida-based Hard Rock reportedly told Reuters on Tuesday that the company is looking to partner Japanese companies in a consortium. “We are looking at 40-60 percent equity participation,” he said. “It’s important to make sure our local partners are involved in the relationship, not just as blind investors.” Hard Rock, which has a presence in more than 74 countries, has identified between 20 and 30 potential partners, including landholders, financial firms, and manufacturers, said Allen.
Last month, the company, which is privately owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and known for its music-themed restaurants, announced the establishment of a dedicated Japanese subsidiary to be led by Edward Tracy, the former Chief Executive Officer of Sands China Limited (1928:HK). The move was described as strategic and in keeping with its plan to grab a sizeable piece of the action once Japan legalizes casinos.
With the passing of the “Act Promoting Implementation of Specified Integrated Resort Areas” the last week of December, Japan could see the legalization of two integrated casino resorts as soon as next year. Crowding the playing field, Wynn Resorts Ltd. (NASDAQ: WYNN), Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS), and MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) could join Hard Rock in competing for potentially lucrative operating rights.
James Murren, MGM’s chairman and CEO, reportedly told reporters Wednesday at an investor conference that in the next 30 days the company plans to expand its presence in Tokyo. The Paradise, Nevada-based company has increased its staff by 15 and will focus on areas including building relationships with local companies and market research. Meanwhile, Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson revealed at the Tokyo conference that his company is prepared to invest a minimum of $10 billion in the new market, which would include the resort itself as well as the land where the resort is located. Melco Crown Entertainment (MPEL.O) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Ho announced today that his company is prepared to “spend whatever we need to win.”
While it’s likely that casino locations and operators won’t be decided on by Japan until 2019, with the country’s first casinos debuting by 2023, the race is very much on among potential investors. And while it’s still considerably early, reports indicate that two integrated casino resorts could generate as much as $10 billion in annual revenues in the country, with that estimate growing considerably as more casinos are allowed.