Japan's first casino resort won't open until 2023 if the legalized gambling legislation currently being debated in the country is passed by the end of the current legislative session, which has been extended to December 14, according to Bernstein analysts.
Legislation to legalize gambling in the country of 127 million passed a House of Representatives (lower house) committee on Friday after just six hours of debate. Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic party and opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai party both back legalized gambling. A full lower house vote could occur as early as Tuesday, according to Japan's Kyodo news agency.
Since at least 2010, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been a vocal supporter of legalizing integrated resorts in Japan, the world's third largest economy.
"If the enabling bill passes, the next step would be to move forward with further legislation as there is a two-step process in the casino legislation. The further legislation would need to be fully drafted and debated in 2017 (or could slip into 2018 depending on scope and debate). After legislation is passed and regulations are developed, the selection process would occur," Bernstein analysts Vitaly Umansky, Zhen Gong and Yang Xie wrote in a recent note, according to GGR Asia.
Despite the positive momentum for the legislation, there is a possibility that Japan follows the more conservative path to gambling that Singapore has taken as opposed to China's Macau region, limiting the number of gaming licenses it approves, according to Morningstar analyst Dan Wasiolek.
"The big caution with gambling is the potential negative impact on society. Singapore cited that as the reason it has only issued two gambling licenses in the decade since it first legalized gambling," Wasiolek told TheStreet. "Singapore issued two licenses and only has two gaming resorts while Macau issued six licenses and has about 30 different casinos in the region."
About 5% of Japan's adult population has a compulsive gambling habit, according to a 2015 government census.
In October, MGM CEO James Murren said that his company is prepared to invest between $4.8 billion and $9.5 billion on an integrated resort that combines gaming with hotels, shopping and conference space in Japan.
Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson has said that his company is ready to invest $10 billion in Japan. "We will spend whatever it takes. We could pay all cash," Adelson said, according to Bloomberg.
Other casino resort operators such as Malaysia's Genting Group, Macau-based Melco Crown (MLP - Get Report) and Hard Rock Cafe are also positioning themselves to apply for gambling licenses in Japan, according to Trefis Research.
Asia is shaping up to be the next growth frontier for the gaming industry as the Macau gaming region in China continues to show signs of recovery. Last month the region posted its fourth consecutive month of year over year gambling revenue growth after 26 straight months of declines.