Insight: Could Japan offer new hope for junket sector?

Insight: Could Japan offer new hope for junket sector?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
JgC speaker Paul Bromberg believes operators from the Asian junket industry will be interested in developments in Japan

A regulated Japanese casino sector could offer some long-term hope to the ailing junket industry hit by China’s crackdown in Macau, according to Paul Bromberg, chief executive of business intelligence company Spectrum Asia.

Bromberg will lead a discussion entitled ‘Gaming Junkets – weighing up the options’ at this year’s Japan Gaming Congress (JgC) in October.

Bromberg and his company have held talks with Japanese lawmakers about the potential for Integrated Resorts (IRs) in the country, with a bill that could eventually legalise the casinos resubmitted to the country’s parliament earlier this year.

“The truth is that we don’t yet know is going to happen in Japan,” Bromberg said. “My feeling is that, if the bill is passed, Japan’s casino industry would operate in a similar way to other properly regulated jurisdictions. It would probably be similar to Singapore, maybe borrowing as well from other jurisdictions the Japanese feel have something to offer, such as Australia and the US.

“The question relating to junkets is whether Japan will licence them. If they do, I imagine it will also be along the same lines as in Singapore, which has a stringent regime - which means very few are licensed, and many players go directly to casinos. I would also expect them to have currency controls and know your customer regulations.

“I’d imagine that the junket operators from all over Asia - China and Macau, Vietnam and Thailand and more - would be interested in Japan.”

During talks, Bromberg says that Japanese officials have expressed an interest in the role of junkets, not least as the lack of a casino industry in the country means that there has not been a need for them previously.

Bromberg believes that, as with many other sectors, junkets exist because “they fill a void”. Their success in Macau is based around the need to help people travel, visit casinos, speak the local language and move money across borders. The latter point is what Bromberg describes as a “darker role”, but he highlights the fact that junkets also operate in countries such as Australia, the US and UK - which are considered to be better regulated - as a kind of niche travel agent.  

The “darker role” would be an area of concern in Japan, where opposition to the IRs has been strong due to fears about the potential for social problems and criminality relating to the gaming industry.

“There is already gambling in Japan, however pachinko – which is played on every street corner – is not considered as such,” he said.

“There are two sides in the debate about the IR enabling bill. The pro side look to all the usual arguments for these kinds of casinos - job creation based around vast infrastructure projects, as well as tax intake and tourism.

“However, I fear that the pro lobby is less well organised than the opposition, who have been vocal in expressing concerns about social problems.

“Another factor standing in the way of progress of the bill is the simple fact that the government has issues to deal with that are a lot more important than whether they have casinos or not.”

All facets of Japan’s potential gaming industry will be up for debate at Clarion-organised JgC, with the likes of MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren and Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith just two of the big names taking part.

Bromberg is also perfectly placed to offer advice on the Asian gaming market, with Spectrum having advised both government and private sector organisations in almost every country within the continent, and also in the US, Caribbean and South America.

He is looking forward to this year’s JgC having enjoyed the open and honest dialogue that was a feature of the 2014 event.

“It’s always nice to catch up with people and it was nice to be somewhere new,” he said.

“There were some really fascinating panel discussions. People were candid and I think it will be very successful in 2015 if people go to it with the same mindset as last year.”

Japan Gaming Congress takes place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Tokyo from October 7-9. For more information visit www.japangamingcongress.com

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