The Kabuki of the Japan Integrated Resorts Race

By Daniel Cheng

The long and winding Japanese Integrated Resort story resembles a daytime soap opera. At the rate the plot has been plodding along, it won’t be a surprise if it gives NBC’s Days of Our Lives a run for the money in terms of longevity.

It was five years ago when the world outside Japan slowly began to perk up their ears to dizzying visions of tills ringing on end, with the possibility of deregulation of casino gaming in the world’s third largest economy. As far as casino legislation is concerned, the Land of the Rising Sun might as well have been the Land of the Blue Moon.

However, salivating greed for overflowing gambling profits tends to beget naïveté, and so they came from near and far, high- powered corporate executives in their finely tailored Brooks Brothers suits with checkbooks open and promising to build in Japan the most phenomenal Integrated Resort ever on the face of this Earth.

It must be said, though, that the enthusiasm was not without more than a little trepidation and wariness because the Japanese have been beating the same drum for over twenty years, and even the illusory wolf had left the room ions ago.

Cut to a standing-room-only hotel ballroom with international and Japanese IR-wannabes packed like sardines for an IR conference; the latter hoping for a handshake and to slip a business card to one of the former, while the former fancied the same with the token politicians that grace such occasions.

A newly-hired Tokyo University-type dynamic, young executive is overheard conversing with a middle-aged sandy hair Caucasian in pinstripe.

Dynamic young executive: “The law has been tabled and as good as passed because the government holds the super-majority in the Diet.”

Pinstripe dude: “That is fantastic! We are so excited for Japan! It’s gonna be the best gaming market ever, everyone is saying it’s the next big thing for the industry.”

Dynamic young executive: “Yes, we hope so. Our government has carefully studied the Singapore IR success model and believe we can do even better. Over the next ten to fifteen years, ten Integrated Resorts will be developed in Japan.”

Pinstripe dude: “Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! So where do think you gonna build ‘em, huh? All over Japan? In all the big cities? I love Tokyo so so much, Tokyo will be a slam dunk y’know?”

Dynamic young executive: “Definitely Tokyo is the favourite choice! Also, other major cities such as Osaka and Fukuoka. But the government may consider some regional locations to help economic rejuvenation, so maybe Nagasaki or Hokkaido.”

Pinstripe dude: “Well, I ain’t too sure about Nagasaki, I had to tell you. I can’t see it happening for us there, perhaps the Macau folks or the Europeans, but not us. No sir! That ain’t a likely scenario for the Vegas boys in my view.”

Dynamic young executive: I see…

Near the back of the ballroom, a local academic who is one of the conference organizers is crossing the language divide, chatting with a bald, portly gentleman with a heavy continental European accent. The international camp is generally segregated into two classes; the Big Boys Club who are namely the marquee Vegas brands as well as the major Asian hardcore casino operators, and then there’s ‘the rest’ comprising of domestic names out of the United States, and the European crowd who are minnows in the global gaming market context.

Local academic: “Japanese people admire European culture very much. I hope for one day to visit the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I wish your company will build an IR in Japan which demonstrates all your rich European heritage.”

European gentleman: “Well, uh, technically the Hanging Gardens is not in Europe.”

Local academic: “Ah, not today’s Europe, but Babylon was part of the Roman Empire and during the time of Alexander the Great in old times, no?”

European gentleman: “Well… yes, that’s true. A long time ago, a long time ago. Indeed, we know Japanese and Chinese cannot get enough of Europe. All we see are Asian tourists every day of the year, everywhere in every corner of Europe! A European-themed IR will be superb for Japan.”

Local academic: “I agree with you. We hope that can be a reality soon. What locations in Japan will your company consider to build an IR?”

European gentleman: “We do not think the metropolitan areas can do justice to the intricacy of European style and culture [codewords for ‘we don’t stand a chance’]. I want to consider places with greater local tradition and culture in Japan that compliments the richness of European history, arts, and architecture.”

Local academic: “Very good, very good. I share the same opinion as you. There are a few regional cities that might be suitable and I can introduce you to some of the officials who are here… from Wakayama, Nagasaki, Hokkaido, Miyazaki…”

European gentleman: “Most kind of you. We have a lot to offer. European resorts are pure lifestyle and entertainment. And of course, I don’t have to mention the rich cuisine that Europe has to offer. I know Asians love their food!”

Local academic: “Certainly a European IR will offer variety to resorts in all the different locations.”

The scenes at the IR conference are a kabuki performance which plays out two or three times every year. Most times, the usual suspects showed up, turning it into a reunion of sorts. It is the Japanese way of keeping up appearances, a prime aspect of Japanese-style lobbying. It does not matter if the presentations are mostly grandiloquent, or incoherent, because no one really listens to the listless deliveries onstage anyway.

There are no backroom deals to be had at such conferences in Japan, because all the quid pro quo has already been settled long before inside the state institutions. (AGB Nippon)