MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren wants to crack the
door open in Japan for casinos and has big plans for a market
that could be one of the top gambling hubs in the world.
Asia's No. 2 economy, where casinos are banned -- though horse
racing isn't -- represents largely virgin territory for gaming
Some projections of potential Japan casino revenue exceed $40
billion a year, nearing the Chinese gambling mecca of Macau's
$45.2 billion haul last year.
In a recent interview from Japan,MGM 's (
) Murren told IBD that the country could be the biggest
opportunity for incremental growth, if conditions are right.
Whetting developers' appetites, Japan's ruling Liberal
Democratic Party in December submitted a bill to parliament that
would pave the way for casinos like those in Las Vegas and Macau.
Lawmakers are expected to debate the bill in April.
Las Vegas Sands (
) CEO Sheldon Adelson said last month that his firm is willing to
spend "whatever it takes" to build a casino in Japan.Wynn Resorts
),Melco Crown (
) and others are also champing at the bit.
In his interview with IBD, MGM's Murren discussed Japan
You've said tourism and travel revenue growth in Japan could top
government estimates if casinos are legalized. On what do you
Japan received about 10 million international tourists last year.
Its government projects that will grow to 20 million by 2020 and
30 million by 2030. Those are aggressive but achievable goals if
the infrastructure is put in place to drive more visits.
The injection of billions of (dollars in) capital through
extremely large, elaborate resorts and networking into what's
most important, the beauty of Japan, will drive that growth.
Can you give examples where building casinos has created that
kind of economic change?
There are examples both far and near. In Singapore, visits by
international tourists grew 60% by virtue of regional and
international demand (after Sands and Malaysia's Genting Group
built casinos there).
Las Vegas receives 40 million visitors a year; 20% are first
timers, 18% from overseas. Macau has experienced tremendous
growth in international tourism -- particularly from the Asian
In Japan, 60% of tourists come from Singapore, Korea and
What part do you see MGM playing in this transformation?
We have knowledge and information on all of the issues that have
to be addressed when considering expanding into integrated
resorts, including cultural, social and developmental issues.
Ultimately, we hope to participate in Japan through the
operation of one or more casinos there.
If Japan approves casinos, when do you think the first MGM casino
would open its doors there?
It's completely up to the government of Japan. It's a complicated
The process will begin this spring with the introduction of
enabling legislation. It's our hope that an MGM-in-Japan
integrated resort can open by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Almost everything would have to go right for that to happen.
It takes three years to build something like this.
How big an opportunity is Japan for MGM?
If the tax rates are reasonable and encourage major investment,
Japan represents the single largest opportunity for incremental
growth for both the casino industry and MGM on the horizon.
What would you do differently in Japan than what you've done in
Macau and Las Vegas?
I was constantly struck by the natural beauty of the country and
the friendliness and warmth of the Japanese people. In some
people's eyes, everything should be in the resort. I think that's
a mistake. The casino resort should be integrated within the
community and nation and encourage visitors to explore and see
what's so great about the country. Performing arts centers,
arenas, restaurants and retail stores should create opportunities
What do Japanese companies need to do to make this happen?
One of the areas I'm most passionate about personally is what
we've been able to accomplish in the area of diversity and
inclusion of women in the workplace. Right now, women are poorly
represented in the executive ranks in Japan's companies. That
drags down the overall economy.
The time has come to create a culture where women don't leave
Japan after graduating.
Do you expect to work with partners in Japan?
We fully expect to work with partners there. We can provide
valuable resources as part of a consortium. It's not a time for
impatience. It's a process that plays out over weeks and